Ferry Advisory Committee members met representatives of BC Ferries earlier this week to share some of the problems that have beset the latest ferry schedule and to explore how (and when) it will be possible to develop a way forward.

Over recent months, ferry users have faced longer line-ups, frequent overloads and delayed ferries.  Such problems always occur in summer, of course, but this year it’s been evident since early May that things  have been worse than usual.

  • Delays happen for a variety of reasons, but research undertaken by the FAC showed that the major cause of unreliability in the new schedule is the inadequate turn-round time for the ferry at either end of the route. Problems start at around 7am and get progressively worse during the morning.  On the busiest days (Tuesdays and Thursdays) unloading and loading can take 20 minutes or more at both ends of the route; the current schedule allows only 15 minutes. Delays are compounded each time there’s an overload as crew members take time to ensure that every last space on the ferry is utilised.
  • Overloads and longer line-ups have always increased in summer, but the mid-morning service break and the loss of the 2:30 pm departure from Nanaimo have both made the situation worse this year.  Even during May, when traffic starts to build for the summer, the balance of capacity to demand was starting to tip – and by the start of the peak summer schedule, the situation was becoming untenable. Line-ups become longer than ever as drivers arrive for the next scheduled sailing before the previous (late running) ferry has departed.

So, what’s to be done?  That’s yet to be worked out, but we have agreed to work jointly with BC Ferries to develop options that we can take to the community before any decisions are made.  BCF is committed to ensuring there’s adequate time for consultation this time around. In a few weeks time, we return to the April 28 schedule, and we need to see how that plays out, especially during September. Nothing will change immediately, but we need to work towards an acceptable solution for 2015.

The challenge will be how to recover the loss of business this year. Will traffic return if the service becomes more reliable? Can that be achieved by simply tweaking the present schedule, or do we need to revisit some of the decisions made following consideration of the government’s planned service cuts last November?  The FAC will be wanting to hear views from ferry users on that.

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