Fast ferry proposal presented to Nanaimo City Council

Amid a flurry of media interest, Nanaimo City Council’s Committee of the Whole today received the first public announcement by Island Ferry Services Ltd (IFSL), the company behind the latest Nanaimo-Vancouver fast ferry proposal. FAC Chair, John Hodgkins, went along to listen to the presentation.

David Marshall, Director of Marine Services for IFSL, described the proposal to a packed auditorium, referring to four years of “behind the scenes” negotiations with City Council staff and, for the first time, revealing some of the details of the planned fast-ferry operation.

The Victoria-based company has registered two new 376-passenger catamaran vessels, Island Tenacity and Island Friendship,  which are currently awaiting delivery from Damen Shipbuilders in Singapore. Both vessels have been registered with Transport Canada to a homeport in Nanaimo. They are capable of travelling at 41 knots, (the proposed service speed is 37 knots) and the company hopes to offer a downtown-to-downtown service in 68 minutes.

IFSL hopes to negotiate start-up concessions with the City Council in order to secure the remainder of the international financial backing necessary to get the project off the ground – possibly as early as Spring/Summer2014. The company plans between 4 and 6 round trips daily between Nanaimo and Vancouver, with a $30 “base rate” for passenger fares and a full, no-cost reservation system.

The proposal, if successful, will undoubtedly attract widespread public support – and the company predicts it could be carrying 1 million passengers a year within three years. Some of that business will be new business – but much will inevitably come from existing carriers Harbour Air and BC Ferries.  Unsurprisingly, few details emerged about IFSL’s traffic projections,  but Mayor John Ruttan left the meeting in little doubt that the City is giving its full support to the new venture.

So what impact would the new service have on BC Ferries?  Already under pressure from the Provincial government to cut operating costs, BC Ferries currently carries about 3.3 million passengers and 1.2 million vehicles a year on Route 2 between Horseshoe Bay and Nanaimo.  If even half of the projected 1 million annual passengers transferred from BC Ferries, that could make a major dent in the financial stability of BC Ferries’ services into Nanaimo – putting increased pressure on the Province to cut services or increase fares yet further – and to look seriously at rationalising the three ferry terminals currently serving the town – something that the City Council just last week restated its opposition to.

If the City Council does close a deal with IFSL, the Province has to reconcile the impact of lost revenue to BC Ferries. Already searching for savings of $18.9 million over the next three years, that figure could increase substantially if BC Ferries’ $12 million annual profit from Route 2 was to disappear.

Today’s good news for passengers might not be quite so good in the end.

John Hodgkins, Gabriola FAC Chair.

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