Bad weather hits February ferry traffic

Figures released by BC Ferries show that ferry traffic to and from Gabriola fell by around 10% in February compared to February 2016. See our Route 19 Performance page for more detail.

Although much of this reduction can be attributed to the bad winter weather we experienced throughout the month, around 3% of the variance is down to the fact that 2016 was a leap year, so February 2017 was one day shorter than the same month last year.

The bad weather hit traffic levels on major routes too, with traffic between Departure Bay and Horseshoe Bay down 12% compared to February 2016.

April 1 fare increase is cancelled

BC Ferries today announced that there would be no fare increase on any of the minor ferry routes on April 1, 2017 – despite the Ferry Commissioner sanctioning a 1.9% increase each year until 2019.

Fares will only increase on the three major ferry routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland – where the 1.9% increase will be applied to vehicle fares, but there will be no increase in passenger fares.

For passengers travelling with a car from Departure Bay or Duke Point, the vehicle fare will rise from $54.80 to $55.80, but the cost of vehicle reservations will fall by up to $5 for reservations made 7 days or more in advance.

BC Ferries says that the top-up level on Experience Cards will also remain unchanged.

The corporation says it is monitoring fuel prices closely though, with a reminder that the present 2.9% fuel rebate on ferry fares is still there….. for the time being.

FAC meets with BC Ferries and Ministry on traffic issues

On March 6th FAC members Heather O’Sullivan, Peggy Richardson and Steve Earle met with Darin Guenette,  John MacDonald and Lance Lomax of BC Ferries and Stu Johnson of the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure (MoTI).  The meeting had been called by BCF with the primary objective of discussing the FAC’s proposal to re-route the ferry line-up.  Other matters were also discussed.

Ferry line-up

We explained that our key issue is safety in the ferry line-up, and that we do not think it’s possible to make it safe on Taylor Bay Road.  There was discussion about U-turns, the width and curvature of Taylor Bay Road, the lack of room for a median barrier, the likely futility and high cost of flexible median separators, the slope of the shoulder on the west side of the road and the instability of the bank.

Stu indicated that MoTI have no intention of changing anything, that there is no money available and that he was not aware that this is a big issue for a majority of Gabriolans.  He said that a study would be needed before anything could be done.

With support from BCF we explained that this is a significant issue, that it is a major topic of conversation in many venues, and that at the November FAC meeting there were community members that supported our proposal for a change and none that did not support it.  While there are other road issues, everybody on Gabriola is affected by the ferry line-up, even those who are not lining up for the ferry.

Stu said that the only effective way to get MoTI’s attention, so that a study could be initiated, would be to write to the Minister, and that the message would filter down from there.  He said that it would help to get community groups, local government and other authorities (e.g., RCMP) to write as well, and that an expression of support from individual community members would also have some impact. FAC members will progress this.

North Road/Taylor Bay Road intersection

MoTI is going to be doing some major work at the intersection of Taylor Bay Road and North Road., starting either late this month or during April.  This will include replacement of the culvert on Taylor Bay Road and re-grading of the last few tens of metres of Taylor Bay Road so as to reduce the steep up-hill grade at the intersection itself.  Taylor Bay Road will be kept open throughout the project.

Descanso Bay parking

John MacDonald suggested that we try to get some community feedback on the problem of long-term parkers at the BCF Descanso Bay parking lot.  He wants to know what the community thinks the time limit should be (e.g., 12 h, 24 h, 48 h …).  Once an appropriate limit has been determined, BCF will install signage and will patrol the lot.  The FAC agreed to carry out a community survey.

Medical-assured loading

John MacDonald said that BCF is planning to move ahead with two medical assured loading spaces at the front of the Descanso Bay line-up, and has been working with MoTI to determine lane markings and signage.  He asked the FAC to work with the community and with health officials to create protocols for issuance of assured loading passes.

Snuneymuxw take over ferry service to Newcastle Island : fares cut to $5


Photo : Snuneymuxw First Nation

Snuneymuxw First Nation has purchased the 48-seat vessel Grey Selkie from Victoria Harbour Ferry Co. to provide improved access and transportation to Newcastle Island while strengthening the Snuneymuxw economy. Fares for the round trip to Newcastle Island will be just $5 this year, down from the previous $9 fare – which was seen as a deterrent, especially for families.

NCI Ferry Service President Erralyn Thomas said they plan to run the ferry from April through October at the very least, and hope to provide limited access year-round, if demand is warranted. In her eyes, SFN taking over ferry service is a catalyst for further economic and cultural opportunities for Snuneymuxw. The new operator, NCI Ferry Service Ltd. is beneficially owned by Snuneymuxw First Nation and is responsible for NCI management and development.

The new ferry service starts on April 1 and will be as frequent as every half-hour in the peak summer period, running on a triangular route between the Waterfront Suites and Marina dock on Stewart Ave., Maffeo Sutton Park and Newcastle Island.

Cold December hits ferry traffic

After a year of almost continuous growth in ferry traffic, 2016 came to a bitterly cold end, resulting in fewer trips being made on our ferry than in December 2015. Passenger numbers were down in December by 4.4%, and vehicle traffic down by 1.5%. A similar pattern was seen across most BC Ferries routes, including the major route from Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay. One route bucking the trend however is Route 30 (Duke Point to Tsawwassen) which saw vehicle traffic rise by 10% in December, and passenger traffic up by 12%.

Despite this sting in the tail, 2016, ferry traffic to and from Gabriola during 2016 increased overall by 3.4% (vehicles) and 1.25% (passengers) compared to 2015 – and, at last, traffic has returned to the levels we were seeing before the ferry cuts of April 2014 – albeit we now have two less sailings each day.

Explaining the traffic growth in 2016 is relatively easy.  Continuing low fuel prices for most of the year encouraged domestic travel, and tourist from overseas rose by 12% in 2016. Not to mention the one extra day (February 29) which on on its own contributed 0.25% to the annual growth.  Forecasting 2017 may be more challenging, especially if rising fuel prices bring the present 2.9% fare rebate to an end.

Gabriola FAC monitors ferry traffic by calendar year, whereas BC Ferries reports annually based on the fiscal year (April to March), resulting in annual fluctuations created by an early or late Easter. The fiscal year to March 2017 included no Easter holiday, whereas this Easter falls in April and Easter break 2018 will span two fiscal years. By comparing calendar years, this distortion is avoided.  See our Route 19 Performance page for details.

BC Ferries explains why they have changed how vessel capacity is measured

In response to our Quinsam Shrinks article,  BC Ferries has offered clarification on some of the questions asked. Here’s what Mark Collins, Vice President (Strategic Planning and Community Engagement) had to say in response to our statements:

FAC: The AEQ is a measure of deck space which was deemed to be the equivalent of one car length. The value of this calculation was that it enables BC Ferries to report accurately on what percentage of each route’s vehicle capacity was actually being used.

BCF: In fact the calculation you refer as “…accurately…” had a flaw.  With this change we have corrected it.  

FAC: Cars have got smaller over the years and it’s not at all unusual for Quinsam to carry 75 or more vehicles on busier sailings

BCF: We don’t have any data which suggests the average car size has gotten smaller.  Our information suggests the opposite, that the average size of vehicles has grown. 

FAC: Quinsam’s capacity has dropped from 70 AEQ’s to just 63.

BCF: Sorry but this is not an accurate statement.  The Quinsam’s capacity did not change; the deck area is exactly the same before and after the change.  All that has changed is the unit of measure of deck area.  Rather like measuring a house today in sq ft and tomorrow in sq meters, the house is still the same size. There is no intention to reduce numbers allowed on board.  Nothing has changed except how the area of the deck is measured.

FAC: An AEQ has been recalculated as 6.1 metres (20 feet) – which happens to be the maximum length of vehicle that can travel at the standard fare, but that’s where the logic seems to end.

BCF: 6.1 m AEQ is used in more places than just the standard fare determination.  In fact, the old 5.3m AEQ was a primary measure in a single place in our systems: the measurement of ship deck space.  There are many other places in our system that all use 6.1 m AEQ.  Terminal holding compounds for example, are measured with 6.1 m AEQ and have been for decades.  The old measure of deck space using 5.3m was the exception, not the rule. BCF should have fixed this years ago but didn’t because it didn’t want lose comparability with past data.  So we allowed two different measures of the same quantity/parameter to perpetuate.  

What about backwards comparability?  To allow backward comparability one or more previous years traffic data will be re-stated using 6.1m AEQ in our reports.  We will adjust other reports on an as needed basis.

 Why harmonize on the 6.1m AEQ and not the 5.3?   Since: (1) the majority of our systems are already based on 6.1m AEQ, and (2) since 6.1m is a more accurate reflection of the reality of today’s vehicles, harmonizing on the 6.1m AEQ required the fewest changes, least disruption and provided the greatest efficency gain.  It also gives is capacity numbers which most closely match customer’s experience.

FAC: Quinsam will continue to carry 75 or more vehicles at busy times, so the new measure seems, well, meaningless.

BCF: Meaningless to some maybe but not meaningless to us and certainly not to people who wish to see good ferry system performance.  In our view this more accurately reflects the proportion of space used since the 6.1m AEQ is closer to the average size vehicle we actually carry.  Most of our fleet routinely carries below the old stated AEQ capacity.  This changes beings our standard capacities more in line with reality, not further away.

FAC: What’s worse is that it now means vehicle utilization statistics reported to government are suddenly 10% higher than they were before. There’s an explanation that an AEQ is now longer, but no explanation why.  

BCF: we trust the “why” is now satisfactorily explained above.

FAC: To the casual observer (or as a message to a new government) it’s great news of course. Our ferry (which was targeted for cuts in 2013 because it only achieved 45% utilisation) has now averaged 58% over the past year – peaking at 66% in summer 2016.

BCF: We trust the above explanation makes clear the lack of foundation for the “message” insinuation.

FAC: Not really. Applying the formula used in 2013, it has increased from 45% to 52% in the past year – and this summer vehicle utilisation was up by 2% from last year to 59%, not 66%. Vehicle utilisation is increasing, but why change the formula now?

BCF: There is no good time to make a change of this type.  But it still had to be done to correct the issues above.  Why now?  (1) Accurate specifications were needed in Fall 2016 for the new Minor 44 vessel (as they will be for the many other new vessel and terminal projects coming), and (2) Accurate, realistic measures of deck space are required for the new point of sale and reservation systems we are presently building. Finally, the measure is not a vehicle limit.  It is measure of standard capacity. 

Chair’s comment –

I’m grateful to BC Ferries for supplying this explanation.

So it seems the new measure is here to stay. It does not affect the number of vehicles carried – and, in the eyes of BC Ferries at least, it more accurately represents reality, as well as providing solace to “people who wish to see good ferry system performance” (presumably meaning  government).

But, as a formula, does the new methodology really give a more accurate reflection of capacity utilisation?  I’m not so sure. A ferry with 70 cars on it used to be recorded as full. Now, with a notional capacity of 63, 7 of the cars on that ferry will be counted as “over capacity”. The daily total may not change, but it must surely distort the reported utilisation measure?