This time last year, all the talk was about cuts to our ferry service. Government wanted to slash $400,000 from the cost of running the service and told BC Ferries to cut 834 round trips a year from the route.  Now the hot topic from government is the recently announced feasibility study into a fixed link between Gabriola and Vancouver Island.

Although no-one, it seems, is happy with the present ferry service – especially as fares have continued to rise at twice the rate of inflation – the fact is that the ferry is our primary link to Nanaimo, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. Your Ferry Advisory Committee is committed to making our ferry service the best we can achieve.

The government’s original plan to cut our late evening services was roundly rejected by Gabriolans and after much debate an alternative schedule was devised by BC Ferries retaining the late night sailings but reducing daytime services instead. The plan was good in theory, but the reality has been quite different. Delays, overloads and declining traffic became the real outcomes.

The FAC pressed BC Ferries to review the schedule at the end of the summer  and asking for a range of options to be presented for Gabriolans to consider. Our message to BC Ferries was clear. We wanted our reliable service back, and we needed to reduce the overloads on daytime services, while still protecting our late evening service.

The government’s line hasn’t changed. The April service cuts won’t be reversed and the savings still have to be achieved. But at least now we have the opportunity to reflect on which elements of our ferry service are most important to us – and to work with BC Ferries to address as many of the problems as we can. One thing’s for sure – it won’t be easy. We know we’re not going to be able to please everybody. Without extra resources, any extra sailings added to reduce overloads will mean that something else has to give. So when the FAC asked for options, we knew that there would be some difficult choices to consider. We asked BC Ferries to ensure that any options would meet the following parameters:

  • Ensuring the availability of service for shiftworkers starting from 7am and finishing up to 10pm
  • Providing additional turn-round time between sailings to improve punctuality
  • Minimising (or removing) breaks in service at busy times mid-morning and early afternoon
  • Increasing available capacity at busy times, balanced with measured adjustments at times when ferries are least used
  • Ensuring that any seasonal service enhancements operate over a longer summer season (ideally May to October)

BC Ferries has drawn up three options for consideration. Each of these options appears to meet the FAC’s essential criteria, but we now want your views on which option will deliver the best overall balance of service for Gabriola. Your feedback is vital, but first, let’s take a closer look at the three options. Click on the table to see a full-size version.

table format

Option 1 – The first departure from Gabriola would be at 6:15am each day; the longest gap between day-time departures would be 1h 20m on weekdays but with a 2h 35m midday break at weekends. The evening gap for Nanaimo departures would be 7:15 to 9:00pm with the last departure from Nanaimo at 11pm daily.

Option 2 – The first departure from Gabriola would be 5:35am on weekdays and 6:25am at weekends; the longest daytime gap on any day would be 1h 25m, The gap in evening service would be from 6:35 to 8:25pm, with the last departure from Nanaimo slightly earlier at 10:30pm every day.

Option 3 – Similar to Option 1, but to avoid having a long midday service break at weekends, the last departure from Nanaimo would leave slightly earlier (10:30pm) on Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays during the winter months, and 10:55pm on Wednesdays through Saturdays. From May to October, the last ferry would leave Nanaimo at 10:55pm every day except Sundays.

What would the ferry schedules look like?

Here’s a summary of the schedule proposed in each Option. Click on the image below for a full-size, printable version.

schedule comparison

How do I make my preferences known?

The FAC has prepared a short on-line survey to enable you to tell us which option works best for you. The survey will also be available in printed form; watch here for further announcements.

******* Click on this link ********   to go straight to the survey.  

The results of the survey will be published here in November and will form the basis of our future discussions with BC Ferries. The preferred schedule is likely to come into operation early in the new year.

Similar Posts


  1. Hi,
    Why can’t we have option 2, but with the reduced sailings on Saturday/Sunday because there is reduced usage on Saturday/Sunday.

    Or perhaps a bridge would be preferable.

    Randy Young

    1. Why would anyone move to an island and then want a bridge? Prince George is promoting itself as a nice, affordable 4 season place to live, work and retire. No ferries and no bridges to worry about. Would seem to be perfect for people not liking life on an island.

  2. Having the gap between the 8:20 sailing and the 11:05 on Wednesday night is very hard on kids in competitive sports. We end up leaving early so as to not be on the 11:05. Why can that break not take place on a Sunday instead?

    1. Carly – we did ask that question back in March, and were told that the midweek arrangement was necessary for both refuelling and emptying sewage tanks, which happens also on Sunday mornings. Options 1 and 3 offer a departure at around 9 pm every day, including Wednesdays.

      1. Options 1 & 3 show a daily start of 6:15. If one refuelling is done Sunday morning prior to start up, could one also be done Thursday morning prior to start up? The music/jazz program kids have the same challenge.
        Thank you so much for your work on all of this. The chart comparing the key differences is well done, focusing on the priorities.

  3. I think a bridge would serve us well. although you don’t mention it as an option over the long term, as part of the highways system a bridge could offer a much more accessible, affordable and sustainable and convenient alternate or addition to the ferry.
    Thanks for all your hard work.
    Molly Henney

    1. Linda – the present schedule is a stopgap, recognizing that the April schedule simply didn’t work. BC Ferries acknowledges that, and has offered up some options based upon the FAC’s desire to achieve some long-term stability. If, at the end of this process, there is no clear preference expressed in favour of one of the options, then we will return for further discussions with BCF which will include the option of maintaining the status quo.

  4. I really think one of the major priorities for the ferry schedule should be to ensure that the high school youth (and other children who travel to Nanaimo for private school, French Immersion, etc.) can leave Gabriola as late as possible and return as early as possible. They have it hard enough as it is with the commute. Once those 2 sailings are set the others can be worked around them incorporating connections with the Departure Bay ferry, etc. SD68 should be brought into discussions immediately so that bus schedules can be discussed. I hope that has already been done.

  5. Thanks to everyone involved in trying to make this all work. Not an easy task.
    I have one very important question though that does not seem to have been asked based on the ferry schedules proposed.

    Has anyone from the FAC spoken with School District 68 (NDSS/Pauline Haarer & Quarterway). These schools all support students from Gabriola and therefore represent FAMILIES on Gabriola. The “no 7:30 am” departure on Sunday will also negatively affect every soccer player on Gabriola which have numbered 65-100 in the past 3 years. Again, representing FAMILIES on Gabriola.

    Looks to me to be a great opportunity for some bored retiree to start a new business cleaning gutters and chimneys, windows, doing yard work, construction, as well as volunteering for the Fire Department in their spare time.

    Catering to tourists is ok, but the needs of year round citizens need to take priority and the youth are our future, and the young parents/adults provide essential services. These are the needs that have to be first in my opinion.

  6. The needs of year round citizens needs should never be overlooked and should always be priority. I am thinking of moving to Gabriola next month.
    I am all for working with the community in any way. Think about whats best for the children/families and people who work off island. abi

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.