Why Can’t the Ferry Keep Up?

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: gabriola.fac@gmail.com.

***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.


Change to Sailing Cut-off Procedure

Effective November 18, 2020 BC Ferries is changing the cut-off procedure for customers arriving at Nanaimo Harbour Terminal.

Starting November 18, when the ferry is running late, customers will be allowed to purchase a boarding pass right up until vehicles begin loading from the last four holding lanes in Nanaimo Harbour Terminal. After that time, no ticket processing of vehicle or walk-on customers will occur for that same sailing.

BC Ferries is taking these measures to try and improve on time performance. For more information please see the Service Notice posted here.

If you wish to contact the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee with comments, or concerns please email gabriola.fac@gmail.com. The Gabriola FAC Facebook account is only used for the purpose of providing information to the community and is not monitored for feedback.

Upcoming Gabriola FAC Meeting

The next Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct 19 from 3pm to 4:30pm (via Zoom).

Meetings are open to the public. If you’d like to join please contact FAC Chair Steve Earle at steven.earle@viu.ca or gabriola.fac@gmail.com to request the Zoom link.

If you are unable to join this meeting but would like to provide input please feel free to email the FAC at the above address with details of your question or concern.

Update – Back to School Traffic on the Quinsam

Update: As of Monday, Sept. 14th, BC Ferries has confirmed that two buses will also arrive for the 3:45 pm sailing at Nanaimo Harbour Terminal and will travel to Gabriola with students on board.

As NDSS students are set to return to class there will clearly be increased demand for several sailings, in particular the 7:35 am sailing from Descanso Bay. Here are a few key updates from BC Ferries to keep in mind:

  • BC Ferries has coordinated with the Nanaimo Ladysmith Public School District to have two school buses at Descanso Bay each school day morning to transport students in buses on the 7:35 am sailing from Gabriola Island. These buses will be at Descanso Bay Terminal ready to load students before boarding the ferry. Students will remain on board the buses for the duration of the sailing, limiting their interaction with other people on board and freeing up lounge space for other walk-on passengers.
  • BC Ferries is also requesting that all vehicle passengers remain in their vehicles for that same 7:35 am sailing.
  • BC Ferries also reminds customers that all walk-on and vehicle passengers including students are required to wear face coverings at all times when at a BC Ferries terminal or on a BC Ferries ship, with the exception being if a customer is inside a vehicle or consuming food or drinks while maintaining physical distance. As with other COVID-19 regulations, travelers not willing to follow this requirement may be denied travel.
  • For more information please visit https://www.bcferries.com/about/projects/covid-19-back-to-school-faqs.html
  • The Gabriola FAC Facebook account is not monitored. If you wish to contact the FAC please email gabriola.fac@gmail.com for a quicker response.

Mandatory Masks and Increased Foot Traffic

Beginning Monday, August 24, BC Ferries will require customers to wear non-medical masks or face coverings at terminals and while on board ferries. All walk-on and vehicle passengers will be required to wear face coverings at all times when at a BC Ferries terminal or on a BC Ferries ship, with the exception being if a customer is inside a vehicle or consuming food or drinks while maintaining physical distance. Also exempt are customers with an underlying medical condition or disability that inhibits the ability to wear a face covering, those who are unable to place or remove a face covering without assistance, and children under two years of age. This requirement also applies to BC Ferries employees, except those working behind a physical barrier or within employee only areas while maintaining appropriate physical distance.

In addition, students are heading back to school in September, and although we still don’t know exactly what that might look like, we can expect to see a lot more foot passengers on the Quinsam. This will be especially true on the 7:35 am sailing from Gabriola and the 2:25 and 3:45 pm sailings from Nanaimo.  BC Ferries isn’t currently limiting the number of people in lounges on the Quinsam, so passengers will need to take social distancing into their own hands.  The Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) recommends that:

  • foot passengers stay outside on the car deck if the conditions are reasonable,
  • those using the lounges do their best to keep their distance from other passengers, and
  • as per BC Ferries’ new guidelines, all passengers should wear a mask if they are not in their personal vehicle.

Any questions for the FAC about this issue, or any other, can be addressed to: gabriola.fac@gmail.com. (Please do not try and contact the FAC via Facebook or Messenger, as the FAC Facebook account is used for posting only and is not regularly monitored.)

Province Cancels Priority Boarding for Residents; Improves Access to Priority Loading for Medical Purposes

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has rescinded the order giving priority boarding on BC Ferries to local residents, but has implemented provisions to improve medical-assured loading on the first available vessel for any individual, their vehicle and an escort. For full details you can view the Province’s Press Release here: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2020EMBC0041-001432.

The new regulations mean that a Medical Assured Loading letter can apply for a period of time (up to year) rather than for specific appointments on specific dates. A completed Travel Assistance Program (TAP) form is also required. This development should make it easier for Gabriolans travelling for medical services on Vancouver Island. The FAC is pleased to see this change, as the need for a letter for each appointment or that stipulated specific dates was onerous for both patients and for health-service providers.

Priority Boarding for Gabriola Residents

The Province has asked BC Ferries to give residents and essential service providers priority boarding on Route 19 (and most other routes) during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Effective July 20th, drivers arriving at the Nanaimo terminal will be asked if they fall into one of those categories. Those that don’t will be put on standby and will be allowed to board when there is room. There will be no similar prioritization on the Gabriola side (presumably due to a lack of facilities), and foot passengers will not be affected at either end. ***The Gabriola FAC did not have input into this change and has no further information at this time.***

FAC Update – Meeting Held Between FAC Chairs and BC Ferries

Gabriola FAC Chair Steven Earle provided the following summary of a telephone meeting which was held yesterday between BC Ferries management and the Chairs of the various BC Ferries Advisory Committees. This summary is provided in the interest of keeping the Gabriola and Mudge Island communities as informed as possible. The FAC has no further information at this point.

BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins (along with Darin Guenette and Brian Anderson) met with the FAC Chairs yesterday.

Mark described the process behind the cuts to the minor routes (including the cuts on the Gabriola-Nanaimo route slated to start in October).  BCF is required to give the government 90-days’ notice of cancellation of “above contract” sailings, and they did so back in mid-March.  At the time they asked the government to waive the 90 days so that they could start making cuts during the slow period, but this was not approved.  Mark admitted that it was a mistake on the part of BCF not to let the FAC chairs know that these cuts were coming.  He apologized for that but did not provide a reason (except to say that there had been ongoing discussion with the minister).

BCF continues to lose in the order of $750,000 per day because they are still operating ferries that are less than half full (although the situation is improving).  The money to cover the losses is coming from the reserve fund which is intended for capital projects.  BCF is making every effort to cut costs (including the small cuts to our route) but Mark said that if they run out of reserve cash they will not be able to continue operating.  So far, there has been no offer of help from either the provincial or federal governments.

Many capital projects are now on indefinite hold.  This includes work at the Horseshoe Bay and Langdale terminals and of course at Nanaimo Harbour and on Gabriola, but it doesn’t include the four new Island 47 vessels (two of which are destined for our route), nor a new Salish vessel.  Mark said that the proposed work at Nanaimo will go ahead, but that the new berth will not be bult at this time (nor the new tie-up berth for the two-vessel operation).  When asked about that he said that BCF will rent a tie-up berth from Nanaimo Harbour Authority once the two new vessels are put into service. Work on the Gabriola terminal is also on hold indefinitely.

-Steve Earle for the Gabriola FAC

Schedule Change

As many of you are aware from various news sources and social media, BC Ferries recently announced that they were cutting “above contract” sailings on a number of routes including the Gabriola-Nanaimo run in response to financial pressures created by the impact of COVID-19 on ferry travel. The FAC has negotiated with BC Ferries in an attempt to minimize the impact on the community of the proposed cuts. While obviously we would prefer that our schedule remain untouched and we are saddened to lose gains that were hard-won, we believe that the compromise reached with BC Ferries represents the best possible outcome for our community in these challenging times.

Under the agreement reached with BC Ferries, there will be no cuts to our schedule until after the Thanksgiving weekend. From October 17th 2020 through May 16th, 2021, excluding the Easter Weekend, the 1:50 and 2:25 sailings on Saturdays and Sundays will be cancelled – essentially a return to our previous schedule. These sailings will also be cancelled on November 11th (Remembrance Day) and January 1st (New Years Day). All other sailings remain the same.

For more information check out the Sounder article here.

Upcoming FAC Meeting

The next meeting of the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee will be Wednesday, Oct 23rd from 10:30 am – 1:00 pm at the GAC Hall.

Members of the public are invited to attend this meeting. Agenda items include Taylor Bay Rd. line up issues and the early morning safety announcements played while the ferry is docked in Descanso Bay.

If you are unable to attend this meeting but would like to provide input please feel free to email us at gabriola.fac@gmail.com with details of your question or concern.