BC Ferries confirms summer weekend sailings are here to stay

After a two-summer trial in 2016 and 2017, BC Ferries has confirmed that the extra weekend sailings at 1.50pm from Gabriola and 2.25pm from Nanaimo will be back next summer and each summer thereafter.

Following a request from the Ferry Advisory Committee in 2015, the ferry corporation agreed to a two-year trial to overcome some of the overloading that was occurring at peak summer weekends.  BC Ferries has indicated that as these sailings are above the minimum service levels outlined in the Coastal Ferry Services Contract, the corporation retains the flexibility to review if traffic or financial conditions change in the future. “Of course, if any reductions were to be considered, BC Ferries would first consult the FAC” said Darin Guenette, BC Ferries’ Public Affairs Manager.

While welcoming this decision, the FAC has already submitted a “Significant Service Request” (SSR) to BC Ferries asking for the extra weekend sailings to be provided year-round, and not just for the 11 weeks of peak summer. That request was officially received by BC Ferries on September 15.

FAC Co-Chair John Hodgkins hopes that BC Ferries will look favourably on the request, pointing out that the past two years has seen traffic grow by more than 8% on the Gabriola route and outside July and August, the mid-afternoon service gap has created overloads on successive weekend ferries from Easter right through to Thanksgiving.  “We have asked BCF to consider year-round operation” he said, “but if that turns out not to be economic, we have asked them to consider extending the period of operation from Easter to Thanksgiving in future years.”

BC Ferries expects to make a decision on the FAC request no later than December 15.


August ferry traffic hits a new peak

Ferry traffic to and from Gabriola is the highest this decade, according to figures released this week by BC Ferries

August’s traffic statistics show 2,000 more vehicles and almost 7,000 more passengers during the month than in August 2015 – meaning that so far in 2017 vehicle traffic has risen by 6.1% – or, put another way, that’s 10,000 more vehicles (5,000 each way) that have been squeezed onto our ferry.

Little wonder then that line-ups and delays are getting longer.

But what’s the answer?  BC Ferries tells us that a new, larger ferry is slated for 2026 – but that’s 9 years away, so must we endure ever longer delays until then, or is there a more creative solution to the problem?  Over the coming months we need to explore every possible option to lessen the pressure and we will be inviting the community to contribute to that process.

Watch this space.

Summer line-up blues

If the ferry line-ups are anything to go by, we’re in for a bumper summer here on Gabriola.  Last year was busy enough, but early signs are that ferry traffic could be another 5% up on last summer – with much of that extra traffic trying to squeeze onto ferries that are already bursting at the seams.

For residents, businesses and visitors alike this brings with it the frustration of long waits and progressive delays to the ferry as the crews do their best to fill every last inch of deckspace.  So, with some important updates since we last published this post, here are some hints to make queueing for the ferry on Gabriola safer and less stressful for everyone:

  1. The ferry line-up starts opposite the Skol pub on North Road and extends up the hill, then round the corner into Taylor Bay Road. If you’re first in line, please stop behind the hatched area and leave this space clear for emergency vehicles and those medical patients who have been issued an authorisation for priority boarding. (note that the “Stop” sign will be moved soon to the start of the hatched area)
  2. The ferry has space for about 70 vehicles (fewer if there are large trucks or trailers on board) and a sign on Taylor Bay Road indicates the point at which that capacity may be reached and you may find yourself waiting for the next ferry. The position of the sign assumes that there will be no gaps in the ferry line-up.
  3. When you join the line-up, please park close to the vehicle in front of you – don’t leave a large gap, as that will make the line-up longer for everyone. Sunshine or Shade – please park within 1 metre of the vehicle in front. If it’s hot, open your windows or take a walk! Dog owners should take their pets (on a leash) and find some shade for them.
  4. At the junction with Taylor Bay Road, the new road construction has removed the steepest part of the hill, so please don’t leave gaps there any more.  Take extra care here if you get out of your car, the road shoulder drops away steeply!
  5. Large trucks may wait in the oversize vehicle bay on North Road. If they arrived before you, please let them into the line-up when the ferry starts loading.
  6. Once the line-up extends into Taylor Bay Road, please use the turning bay on the right to join the line-up. Don’t U-turn on the highway – and don’t block the turning bay.
  7. If the line-up extends beyond the turning bay, please follow the signs to the next U-turn point at the junction with Ivory Way. U-turns along Taylor Bay Road are dangerous and you may cause an accident if you ignore the warning signs. RCMP Officers regularly patrol this section of road and may issue violation tickets to drivers making illegal U-turns.
  8. If the line-up reaches the narrow bridge at Mallett Creek, please observe the “No stopping on pavement” signs and don’t park on the bridge.
  9. On exceptionally busy days, the line-up can extend as far as Ivory Way. If it does, don’t block the turning bay (or the entrance to the campground) – go down Ivory Way to the turning point and join the line-up in Ivory Way. Don’t queue on Taylor Bay Road beyond the campground.
  10. Stay safe and remember the five golden rules:
  • Don’t leave gaps in the line-up
  • Don’t let your engine idle for long periods
  • Don’t U-turn on the highway, you may cause an accident
  • Don’t open your doors without checking for passing traffic – and bikes
  • Don’t stand in the roadway for that chat – stand away from the traffic!

Remember also that ferries from Gabriola are always busiest during the morning – if you can, leave your journey until later in the day when ferries are less busy. Check out our Best Times to Travel page for a handy guide to which ferries are likely to be full. If you don’t need to take your car, don’t! Think transit; think Gertie

FAC meets with BC Ferries and Ministry on traffic issues

On March 6th FAC members Heather O’Sullivan, Peggy Richardson and Steve Earle met with Darin Guenette,  John MacDonald and Lance Lomax of BC Ferries and Stu Johnson of the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure (MoTI).  The meeting had been called by BCF with the primary objective of discussing the FAC’s proposal to re-route the ferry line-up.  Other matters were also discussed.

Ferry line-up

We explained that our key issue is safety in the ferry line-up, and that we do not think it’s possible to make it safe on Taylor Bay Road.  There was discussion about U-turns, the width and curvature of Taylor Bay Road, the lack of room for a median barrier, the likely futility and high cost of flexible median separators, the slope of the shoulder on the west side of the road and the instability of the bank.

Stu indicated that MoTI have no intention of changing anything, that there is no money available and that he was not aware that this is a big issue for a majority of Gabriolans.  He said that a study would be needed before anything could be done.

With support from BCF we explained that this is a significant issue, that it is a major topic of conversation in many venues, and that at the November FAC meeting there were community members that supported our proposal for a change and none that did not support it.  While there are other road issues, everybody on Gabriola is affected by the ferry line-up, even those who are not lining up for the ferry.

Stu said that the only effective way to get MoTI’s attention, so that a study could be initiated, would be to write to the Minister, and that the message would filter down from there.  He said that it would help to get community groups, local government and other authorities (e.g., RCMP) to write as well, and that an expression of support from individual community members would also have some impact. FAC members will progress this.

North Road/Taylor Bay Road intersection

MoTI is going to be doing some major work at the intersection of Taylor Bay Road and North Road., starting either late this month or during April.  This will include replacement of the culvert on Taylor Bay Road and re-grading of the last few tens of metres of Taylor Bay Road so as to reduce the steep up-hill grade at the intersection itself.  Taylor Bay Road will be kept open throughout the project.

Descanso Bay parking

John MacDonald suggested that we try to get some community feedback on the problem of long-term parkers at the BCF Descanso Bay parking lot.  He wants to know what the community thinks the time limit should be (e.g., 12 h, 24 h, 48 h …).  Once an appropriate limit has been determined, BCF will install signage and will patrol the lot.  The FAC agreed to carry out a community survey.

Medical-assured loading

John MacDonald said that BCF is planning to move ahead with two medical assured loading spaces at the front of the Descanso Bay line-up, and has been working with MoTI to determine lane markings and signage.  He asked the FAC to work with the community and with health officials to create protocols for issuance of assured loading passes.

Snuneymuxw take over ferry service to Newcastle Island : fares cut to $5


Photo : Snuneymuxw First Nation

Snuneymuxw First Nation has purchased the 48-seat vessel Grey Selkie from Victoria Harbour Ferry Co. to provide improved access and transportation to Newcastle Island while strengthening the Snuneymuxw economy. Fares for the round trip to Newcastle Island will be just $5 this year, down from the previous $9 fare – which was seen as a deterrent, especially for families.

NCI Ferry Service President Erralyn Thomas said they plan to run the ferry from April through October at the very least, and hope to provide limited access year-round, if demand is warranted. In her eyes, SFN taking over ferry service is a catalyst for further economic and cultural opportunities for Snuneymuxw. The new operator, NCI Ferry Service Ltd. is beneficially owned by Snuneymuxw First Nation and is responsible for NCI management and development.

The new ferry service starts on April 1 and will be as frequent as every half-hour in the peak summer period, running on a triangular route between the Waterfront Suites and Marina dock on Stewart Ave., Maffeo Sutton Park and Newcastle Island.

Cold December hits ferry traffic

After a year of almost continuous growth in ferry traffic, 2016 came to a bitterly cold end, resulting in fewer trips being made on our ferry than in December 2015. Passenger numbers were down in December by 4.4%, and vehicle traffic down by 1.5%. A similar pattern was seen across most BC Ferries routes, including the major route from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay. One route bucking the trend however is Route 30 (Duke Point to Tsawwassen) which saw vehicle traffic rise by 10% in December, and passenger traffic up by 12%.

Despite this sting in the tail, 2016, ferry traffic to and from Gabriola during 2016 increased overall by 3.4% (vehicles) and 1.25% (passengers) compared to 2015 – and, at last, traffic has returned to the levels we were seeing before the ferry cuts of April 2014 – albeit we now have two less sailings each day.

Explaining the traffic growth in 2016 is relatively easy.  Continuing low fuel prices for most of the year encouraged domestic travel, and tourist from overseas rose by 12% in 2016. Not to mention the one extra day (February 29) which on on its own contributed 0.25% to the annual growth.  Forecasting 2017 may be more challenging, especially if rising fuel prices bring the present 2.9% fare rebate to an end.

Gabriola FAC monitors ferry traffic by calendar year, whereas BC Ferries reports annually based on the fiscal year (April to March), resulting in annual fluctuations created by an early or late Easter. The fiscal year to March 2017 included no Easter holiday, whereas this Easter falls in April and Easter break 2018 will span two fiscal years. By comparing calendar years, this distortion is avoided.  See our Route 19 Performance page for details.