More weekend ferries this Summer

Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee today received the news it had been waiting for since December; agreement from BC Ferries to introduce an extra round trip between Gabriola and Nanaimo on Summer weekends, plugging the 2.5 hour early afternoon service gap on Summer Saturdays and Sundays.

The extra services will initially operate for a two –year pilot between late June and early September 2016 and 2017, with an opportunity to review performance after the 2016 summer season.

Since the cuts imposed by Provincial government in 2014, the FAC has worked with BC Ferries to refine ferry schedules and improve the reliability of our ferry service. A schedule change in April 2015 helped improve on-time performance and removed mid-day gaps in the service on Mondays to Fridays – but at weekends, when traffic volumes were lower for most of the year, the 1.50pm departure from Gabriola and 2.25pm from Nanaimo weren’t reinstated – and the services either side continued to overload throughout Summer 2015.

Committee members were informed at their November meeting with BC Ferries that extra services would only be considered if a clear business case could be made – a task made more difficult by the inability to obtain route-specific financial information from BC Ferries. Undeterred, FAC representatives met with BCF managers in December 2015 to present evidence supporting the reinstatement of the early afternoon sailings on summer weekends.

The problems were evident; whereas traffic levels on most BC Ferries routes have recovered to pre-2014 levels, traffic on the Gabriola route has yet to return to the levels carried before the 2014 service cuts – and the recovery has been slowest during the peak summer months, reflecting a continuing loss of tourist traffic. Data provided by BC Ferries confirmed that the reduced weekend service had been unable to deliver adequate daytime capacity in Summer 2015 – and the FAC argued that this was due in large part to the missing early afternoon sailings.

This decision by BC Ferries follows three months of critical analysis by BCF management, who also had to convince the Province that the extra services would not dilute the financial savings achieved in 2014.

FAC Chair John Hodgkins welcomed today’s news, especially since similar requests on some other routes had failed to deliver the stringent business case required by BC Ferries.

“In our negotiation with BC Ferries, we were able to demonstrate that the potential extra revenue would make a significant contribution towards covering the cost of an additional round trip – and we explored with BC Ferries how they might deliver the extra services at marginal cost. We acknowledged that outside the peak summer period the case was less convincing, but we pressed BC Ferries to identify a solution that would not impact on services at other times of the day.”

“We urged BC Ferries to consider a one-year trial, so today’s commitment to piloting the improved schedule over two summers is very good news. It means we will have the opportunity to review how the service performs after the 2016 summer season and explore options for extending the trial beyond Summer 2017.”

“Most importantly, we have a decision from BC Ferries that will hopefully encourage more tourists back to Gabriola in 2016 – and bring a much-needed boost to our local economy.”

The extra services will operate each weekend from June 29 until September 6, 2016. Full details of the summer 2016 schedule can be found now on the BC Ferries website.

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