Steven Earle, for the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee
Gabriolans are justifiably frustrated because the ferry is so often behind schedule. This seems to have been the case for years, but is clearly getting worse, and many of us are negatively affected, at least some of the time.
Scheduling on Route 19 is a challenge. Gabriolans expect BC Ferries to put on as many sailings as possible, starting as early in the morning as possible and continuing as late into the evening as possible. BC Ferries genuinely wants to do that, but they have to work within a restricted budget and under the constraints of their contract with the crew. They have created a schedule that works in theory (and it does work on days when the traffic is light) but goes pear shaped when the loads are heavy.
So why can’t it work all the time? We know the distance and the ship’s speed. We know approximately how long it takes to load and unload, but this is where it gets difficult, because the bigger the load, the longer that takes. The problem really starts with overloads, because it takes much longer to fill the ferry when there is an overload. Typically, the crew has to stop loading, and then assess how much space is left, and then work to squeeze on as many vehicles as possible, a few at a time. The issue is worse on this side because there are no terminal staff to help out. The other problem is that overloads don’t happen every day—even during the peak season—and at some times of the year they are quite rare. The amount of traffic is also hard to predict as it is affected by the weather and by special events happening in both Nanaimo and on Gabriola.
Sailing delays happen because the schedule is too tight to accommodate the overload problem. It doesn’t help that the Quinsam is currently experiencing a mechanical issue that prevents her from going over 10 knots. That speed is fast enough to keep on schedule on low-traffic days, but it doesn’t allow the ship to make up time when there are delays. The simplest solution to these problems would be to reduce the number of sailings, but that would likely mean even longer line-ups and greater frustration. Nobody wants that. Another solution would be to create a schedule that changes from day to day, with fewer sailings on busy days, and more on quieter days. We don’t think that’s going to float either.
There is one thing that many of us could do to help, and that is to avoid travelling by car when overloads are likely. Not everyone has that flexibility, but those that do could avoid the busiest days altogether: Tuesdays and Thursdays. And we could avoid leaving Gabriola between 8:50 and 12:35 on weekdays, or returning on the 3:45 or the 5:10. Some of us could leave our cars behind for some trips, and take a bike or walk.
The FAC doesn’t have the answers, and nor does BC Ferries, but we know that Gabriolans are smart, so we welcome your constructive suggestions. They do listen to us (some of the time!) so good ideas do have a chance of being put into practice.
Please e-mail your great ideas on how to make the ferry work better to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
***Please note that the Gabriola FAC Facebook account is only used for the purpose of providing information to the community and is not monitored for feedback. The Gabriola FAC is also not able to moderate Facebook discussions.