Shaping the future look of our ferry terminals (updated May 16, 2018)

TDP Poster

For details and draft concepts of the terminal development plans follow these links:

Between now and May 30,  you can provide feedback to BC Ferries by completing the short survey at the link below. You can also send your feedback by email to

Follow this link to complete the BC Ferries survey and submit your comments on either plan.


Easter’s busiest ferries

It’s a holiday weekend once more and some ferries will be busier than usual. Last year’s busiest ferries are shown in black and red in the chart below – and we expect this year to be busier than ever, with ferry traffic up another 5% since 2017.

Don’t forget, though, that the 1.50pm ferry from Gabriola and 2.25 from Nanaimo will be back this year on Easter Saturday and Sunday. easterA printable copy of this chart can be found here 

Terminal Development Planning

On February 15th the Ferry Advisory Committee met with BC Ferries’ Terminal Development managers to discuss the planned renewal of the ferry berths and the opportunities for improving ferry-related infrastructure in both Nanaimo and Gabriola as part of a structured Terminal Development Plan. FAC chair Steven Earle described the meeting as positive and productive, and expressed optimism that BC Ferries is committed to some significant changes that will improve both safety and functionality at both ends of the route.

BC Ferries also presented an overview of some of the preliminary ideas that could be considered for the berths, waiting rooms, parking, passenger drop-off, bus, pedestrian and cycling access, and the vehicle holding facilities on both sides. Construction of the new ferry berths is scheduled to take place in 2021.

The Terminal Development Plan (TDP) will set out a long term vision of how the Nanaimo and Gabriola terminals should develop over time. The TDP will provide the framework for the phased implementation of strategies, actions and projects over the next 25 years and will therefore need to accommodate measures for the planned replacement of the MV Quinsam within the next 10 years.

BC Ferries outlined the nature of the public consultation process that is proposed over the coming 12 months.  As with similar projects elsewhere, delivering a final Terminal Development Plan is a six-stage process, with community engagement at several points along the way.   Currently, BC Ferries is at the pre-planning stage which gathers input from government agencies and key stakeholders (including the FAC) on some of the key issues and opportunities that the TDP should address. tdp-process-phases-2Once the pre-planning stage is complete, an initial report is produced and, with input from the local community, the key issues and opportunities are identified. We anticipate that the first public meeting on the terminal development process will be held on Gabriola in May or June of this year.

Similar meetings were held on Denman and Hornby Islands last fall, and an example of the public consultation document for the Denman West and Hornby Island terminals can be found here.

Concerns that were raised by the FAC in our meeting regarding the Nanaimo and Gabriola terminals are summarized here and we invite Gabriola residents and businesses to submit comments and suggestions via the Have Your Say page on this website ahead of the formal consultation process.

Summer 2017 : an operational tale of woe

BC Ferries’ quarterly operations report for July-September 2017 reveals just how much the extra vehicle traffic on our ferry last summer impacted on the quality of service provided.

Compared to the same period last year, our ferry carried 6,000 extra vehicles and more than 13,000 extra passengers, making Summer 2017 the busiest since 2010 – despite the fact that we now have two less departures each day.  According to BC Ferries’ statistics, vehicle occupancy reached 70% for the first time ever – though this measure uses BCF’s new calculation of vehicle space – but even against Quinsam’s “old” capacity of 70 AEQs, this equates to 63% of deck space used – the highest quarterly average ever recorded on the route.

But, as we found out, this extra traffic led to more delays and more overloads. Now we can see just how bad things were. As the first chart shows, on-time performance slumped to the lowest ever recorded – with just 76.9% of sailings leaving within ten minutes of scheduled time. That’s even worse than we saw in summer 2014, when our ferry service was reduced and the initial schedule was acknowledged as “unworkable” by BC Ferries. ontimeSummer 2017 also saw a huge rise in the number of overloads – increasing by a staggering 50% since last summer, with 15.5% of all sailings reported as overloaded. That’s the equivalent of 30 overloads every week, the majority of which occurred on weekdays, often over several consecutive departures.pverloadsThe full quarterly report can be downloaded here from the Ferry Commission’s website.

Ferries feeling the squeeze

Twice a year, Ferry Advisory Committees receive a mountain of data from BC Ferries, detailing the volume of traffic on each ferry sailing over the preceding six months. On Gabriola, we use that data to update our Best Times to Travel guide on the FAC website. But the data also reveals just how much busier our ferries have become and enables us to look back at what’s changed since 2012, the year in which the plans for cutting back our ferry service were being hatched by government. Those cuts finally took effect in April 2014.

Back in 2012, almost a third of our ferry sailings to and from Gabriola fell below the 20% occupancy level that placed them into the “at risk” category in the mind of government. Even during July – always one of the busiest month of the year – one in four of our ferries fell below the 20% threshold and only one in ten actually departed full.

Oh, how things have changed. The FAC recently compared ferry usage in July 2017 on a like-for-like basis with traffic levels five years ago.  The growing pressure on our daytime ferry service can be all too clearly seen on these charts. The first two charts show the change in traffic volume on ferries leaving Gabriola in 2012 and 2017. July from Gabriola july keyThis summer, just one in eight ferries sailed with less than 20% occupancy (most of those were during the late evening) but no less than 1 in every 4 departures is now full or over-subscribed, resulting in long delays and missed appointments. This July, it was virtually impossible to find space on a ferry leaving Gabriola any time between 7am and 3pm on weekdays. A similar situation was emerging on ferries leaving Nanaimo between 1.30pm and 6.30pm as the following charts show:July from Nanaimo
Copies of the charts shown above, together with equivalents for January, May and October, can be downloaded here

Tuesdays and Thursdays are, as always, the busiest days but now the squeeze is hitting other days too, and often lasting throughout the day. Weekends have become noticeably busier too – not just in summer, but for much of the year. Thankfully, BC Ferries has agreed to reinstate the early afternoon sailings on busy weekends following the FAC’s intervention last year, but even Sunday morning ferries are now close to capacity leaving Gabriola – just one more sign of our growing visitor numbers.

We have also seen a progressive increase in the volume of commercial traffic on our ferry to and from Gabriola. In the past few years the number of large trucks arriving from Nanaimo each weekday between 7 and 10am has almost trebled. Most are making deliveries to Gabriola then leaving the island again between 10 and 3 – adding yet more pressure to those same overloaded ferries. We need to encourage local businesses to reschedule their deliveries to times and days when the ferry is less busy and the long waits in line-ups can be avoided.

Of course, the FAC recognises that many Gabriolans need to plan their trips to town midweek, and that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. However, given the pressure on our ferry last summer, the potential for our government’s recently announced fare incentives focussing yet more traffic onto those same over-subscribed ferries should be a concern to us all. How long must we wait for a solution to this problem?

There is no simple solution of course. A larger ferry would help, but that’s still years away. There’s no slack in Quinsam’s schedule, so extra daytime sailings are out. In their recent letter to Minister Trevena, the FAC drew attention to its concerns and urged government to look seriously at measures that will ensure we have adequate ferry capacity in 2018 and beyond to meet the anticipated increase in demand. The problem is here and now, and we must hope that the Minister will use this Review of BC Ferries’ operations to identify a robust and sustainable solution for Gabriola.

The only immediate solution that the FAC can see is to ask for some flexibility in the implementation of free seniors’ travel so that we can encourage some ferry users onto the less-used Friday through Monday sailings. There would still be 4 days of free travel for seniors. The FAC is committed to an open decision-making process, so if we are given the opportunity to recommend changes we will consult with the community first.

BC Ferries cancels Sunday morning sailing on March 4 for safety drills

On Sunday, March 4, 2018, the crew of the MV Quinsam will be conducting safety drills and a deployment of the Marine Evacuation Slide System as required by Transport Canada. The following sailings will be cancelled:

Sunday, March 4
Depart Nanaimo Harbour 8:10 am
Depart Descanso Bay, Gabriola 8:50 am

 BC Ferries apologizes for any inconvenience experienced as a result of these sailing cancellations.  See


BC Ferries reinstates weekend sailings from May 12 to October 7, also holiday weekends year-round.

In response of the FAC’s bid for reinstatement of the early afternoon weekend sailings at 1.50pm from Gabriola and 2.25pm from Nanaimo,  BC Ferries this week confirmed that these sailings will now operate over a longer period each summer, and at busier holiday weekends throughout the year.

These sailings will now operate 7 days a week between May 12 and October 7, and on the following holiday weekends in 2018:

  • Saturday February 10 / Sunday February 11 (BC Family Day Weekend)
  • Saturdays March 17, 24 / Sundays March 18, 25 (Schools Spring Break)
  • Saturday March 31 / Sunday April 1 (Easter weekend)
  • Victoria Day, Canada Day, BC Day, Labour Day and Thanksgiving
  • Saturday November 10 / Sunday November 11 (Remembrance Day)
  • Saturday December 21 / Sunday December 22 (pre Christmas)
  • Saturday December 28 / Sunday December 29 (pre New Year)

An updated version of the ferry schedule is now available here 

Extra weekend sailings are on the way ….

BC Ferries’ website this week revealed that the mid-afternoon sailings at weekends will return to the schedule for the busier weekends this winter, starting with Christmas and New Year.

The latest update to our ferry schedule indicates that the “missing” weekend sailings at 1.50pm from Gabriola and 2.25pm from Nanaimo will be back in the schedule  over the following weekends:

  • Saturday December 23 / Sunday December 24 (Christmas)
  • Saturday December 30 / Sunday December 31 (New Year)
  • Saturday February 10 / Sunday February 11 (BC Family Day Weekend)
  • Saturdays March 17, 24 / Sundays March 18, 25 (Schools Spring Break)
  • Saturday March 31 (Easter weekend)

We anticipate that further additional dates may be announced soon.

Earlier this year, your Ferry Advisory Committee submitted an outline business case for the reinstatement of these weekend sailings, which were removed from the schedule in 2014 as part of the previous government’s efficiency savings.  In 2016, they were reinstated  during July and August for a 2-year trial which has now been confirmed as permanent. The FAC’s request for reinstatement on a year-round basis (or at least for a longer period each year) is due to be determined this month.

Province to start its review of BC Ferries in January

The much anticipated government review of BC Ferries is due to start in the new year, according to Transportation Minister Claire Trevena. In a press release issued yesterday, the Ministry said:

This review will identify what improvements can be made to the existing model and the Coastal Ferry Services Contract to better serve the needs of ferry users and coastal communities.

Under the terms of reference, the review will:

  • Examine whether the contracted ferry services are being provided for in a manner that supports the public interest.
  • Consider what changes to the price cap and regulatory model would ensure the ferry system is working as efficiently and effectively as possible for all British Columbians, and, in particular, for the ferry users and communities who depend on this essential service.
  • Identify opportunities and recommend actions to enhance ferry service delivery and/or reduce costs without impacting existing service.

The review will not consider bringing BC Ferries back into government. The review is expected to cost approximately $250,000, inclusive of all fees for technical expertise, research and analysis under the terms of reference to support the review process.

The Province has appointed Blair Redlin, former deputy minister of transportation and former CEO of the BC Transportation Financing Authority, as a special adviser to oversee the review. Redlin will report to the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, with a final report to be delivered to government by June 2018.

Many have argued for a return to direct government control of BC Ferries, but the decision to exclude consideration of that from the review comes as no real surprise given the levels of capital borrowing needed to fund the renewal of BC Ferries’ aging infrastructure. Will this review do more than tinker around the edges? Only time will tell.

Also missing from the review’s Terms of Reference is any mention of input from the public – or indeed from Ferry Advisory Committees. However, the Minister assured FAC Chairs this summer that our voices would be heard and your FAC will be preparing a submission in the coming weeks to set out the issues that are most important for Gabriola’s ferry users. Watch this space!