Full 2018 schedule now available for Departure Bay / Horseshoe Bay ferries

BC Ferries has now published the full 2018 schedule for ferries between Departure Bay and Horseshoe Bay.

From January 2, departure times change at both ends of the route, with the spring schedule running through to May 16. From May 17 there are further changes in service lasting through to October 8, after which the spring schedule returns. As before, there are extra sailings in peak summer (June 23 to September 3) and at busy weekends throughout the season. Full details can be found at www.bcferries.com. 

This summary of the revised schedule can be downloaded here.Departure Bay – Horseshoe Bay

Bowen Queen gets off to a slow start, but now showing signs of improvement…

The first three days of operation saw delays and some overloads for Bowen Queen this week – but by Friday (always a quieter day on our ferry) the situation was starting to settle down.

Bowen Queen

Bowen Queen

Wednesday’s service was worst hit – with a combination of an unfamiliar vessel, a salmon fishing fleet stretching across Nanaimo Harbour and more commercial vehicles than the Bowen Queen is designed to handle.  All went well until the 7.35am ferry arrived in Nanaimo, to be faced with a line-up of trucks that took up a full 32 minutes before the 8.10 was ready to leave. By then the ferry was already 18 minutes late.

On Wednesday, each turn-round took Bowen Queen an average 4 minutes longer than planned. By Thursday it was down to 3 and Friday’s average was just 2 minutes longer. However, the 8.10am from Nanaimo remains a challenge, with Thursday’s loading taking 26 minutes and 25 minutes on Friday. The planned schedule allows just 15 minutes at this time.

What is clear is that Bowen Queen’s extra turn of speed (14+ knots compared to Quinsam’s 12 knots) makes it possible to recapture some of that lost time – providing the harbour is not congested.  Crossing times of 17 minutes are achievable when a speed of 14 knots can be attained.

Also evident are the supreme efforts of the Crew to manage the unloading and loading and minimise delays to the service. As days pass, it will undoubtedly become slicker and hopefully the on-time performance will improve significantly next week.

Summer ferry challenges : how did they affect you?

This past summer was one of the busiest ever experienced on Route 19 between Nanaimo and Gabriola, and we know that presented some real issues for Gabriolans and visitors.
The Ferry Advisory Committee would like to find out what your summer ferry experiences were like, so please give us some feedback in this 5-minute survey.

The questionnaire can also be completed on paper at the Library if you prefer.

The closing date for responses will be October 31, 2017.

Thank you for completing the survey!  Your opinion is important to us. You are also invited to attend the FAC meeting on November 15th from 3:30 to 6:00 PM at the Arts Council Hall

Ferry fares – what next?

Just last week, our new Minister of Transportation pledged that the NDP’s election promises of a 15% reduction in fares on minor routes, a fare freeze on the major routes and a return to free travel for BC Seniors on Mondays to Thursdays would all be honoured “in the next few weeks”. But it seems that pledge may take longer to deliver, and it could easily be early 2018 before those price cuts can be realised.

Ferry fares are regulated by the BC Ferry Commissioner acting (we’re told) independently of the BC Government and BC Ferries. At four year intervals, the Commissioner determines the maximum level of fare increase that BC Ferries can charge in order to bridge any anticipated gap between costs and revenues.  After many years of above-inflation increases, the price cap (the maximum permitted increase) was set in 2016 at 1.9% annually from 2016 until 2019.

That figure will have been based on a range of assumptions about operating costs, funding for new ferries and changes in expected traffic levels. But perhaps the most unpredictable factor is fuel prices, so at the start of each four-year period, the Ferry Commissioner determines a baseline cost per litre for fuel and as prices fluctuate, any underspend or overspend is banked in a regulated fund known as the Fuel Deferral Account.  If fuel prices rise above the set level, the deferral account goes into deficit until such time as prices come down below the set price to sufficiently burn off the debt. If that looks unlikely, BC Ferries will apply a surcharge on fares to bring the deficit down.

The opposite is also true. If fuel prices stay below the set price for a long period, a credit builds up in the deferral account to be used either to shield against future high prices, or it is returned to customers as a fuel rebate on fares.  That’s good news for customers, and since 2015 we have been enjoying rebates of 1% – increasing to 2.9% from April 2016.

These rebates have reduced the credit balance in the deferral account from its $6 million ‘high’ at the start of 2016 and have continued to drain the deferral account despite the acccount returning to zero by the Fall. Since then, the account has been sliding further into deficit as fuel prices have crept up but the rebates to customers have continued.

How long can this go on? Well, it’s entirely possible that BC Ferries was told not to “rock the boat” by ditching the fare rebate ahead of the provincial election. But now they are surely heading to the point where they will be told that the 2.9% rebate must go – and if bulk fuel prices continue to rise it’s entirely possible we could be seeing a fuel surcharge in its place sometime soon.

So, that good news from the NDP could be pre-empted by the 2.9% rebate on fares disappearing first, meaning the fares we pay could go up before their election commitment kicks in.  What cannot be reversed is the decision in April to cancel any fare increase in 2017. That decision stands, and the price cap for 2018 and 2019 remains at 1.9% each year. So, will the NDP wait until that 1.9% fare increase is due to kick in next April before delivering their promised fare cut? Informed sources now suggest that they will.

What a difference a day makes…..

After one of the busiest days of the year this Thursday, it’s amazing to see how much ferrycameasier it is to get on the ferry on a Friday! At 11.15 yesterday, the line-up was right back to the campground. Today it didn’t even reach the overload sign.

Too bad the half fare discount for seniors doesn’t apply on Fridays – it’s the one day of the week that there’s space on most ferries leaving the island. And no overloads means fewer delays too.

It really does pay to leave your trip into town until Friday at this time of the year. Or Saturday. Just look at how much more space there is!



Busiest summer on our ferry since 2010

September’s traffic statistics published recently by BC Ferries show that vehicle traffic was 5.2% up on September 2015 and passenger traffic up 4.2% – confirming that summer 2016 has been the busiest for ferry traffic since 2010, and explaining why our ferry line-ups have been exceptional this year.

Between June and September, more than 129,000 vehicles were carried this year – 5,000 more than last summer, and 8,000 more than Summer 2014, the year following our ferry cuts. The last time our summer ferry traffic was busier was 2010, when nearly 135,000 vehicles were recorded.  Since 2010, ferry traffic has been in steady decline due to the combined effect of high fares and a weakened economy.

Passenger numbers have followed a similar trend – with over 292,000 passengers carried between June and September – up by 5,000 from last year and a massive 15,000 more than Summer 2014 – and the highest since 2010, when 306,000 passengers travelled.

At first sight, this is great news for the longer term sustainability of our ferry service – but we know that traffic on our late evening ferries is stubbornly low and showing little sign of improving. The majority of new traffic appears to be focussed on our daytime ferries – sailings that are already full for much of the year – and in peak summer that simply means longer line-ups and more missed ferries.

Summer 2016 also saw the reinstatement (on a 2-year trial) of the early afternoon weekend sailings during July and August. They appear to have been well used, and will return next year. Once we have detailed traffic numbers from BC Ferries, we aim to provide a detailed appraisal of the impact they have had on weekend traffic.

Monthly traffic statistics can be found on our Route 19 Performance page.