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!

Traffic up, reliability down in Spring 2017 Quarterly Report

Every quarter, BC Ferries reports to the BC Ferry Commission on the performance of each route. The latest quarterly report (April to June 2017) confirms what many of us have seen this year – that as traffic has continued to increase, on-time performance has suffered and the number of overloaded sailings has increased significantly.

Spring 2017 saw the Vehicle Capacity Utilisation (the percentage of deck space occupied) rise to 58.3% – up by 4% compared to the same quarter last year, as shown in the graph below. Note that this graph expresses utilisation against the original deck capacity of 70, although BC Ferries now calculates the vessel’s capacity as 64.Slide3As traffic increases however, on-time performance is more difficult to maintain and as this next chart shows, the percentage of “on-time” departures in the quarter plummeted to just 86.1% compared to the past two years, when over 97% of departures left on time.  On-time performance at this low level is more typically seen only in peak summer and this quarter’s performance is the lowest recorded in Spring for the past five years.Slide4One reason for the slip in on-time performance is the number of overloads that have to be managed – which increased in Spring 2017 to almost 10% of all sailings. Each time an overload occurs, the loading process takes longer while crew members squeeze in as many vehicles as possible. The number of sailings reported as overloaded this Spring was up by more than two-thirds compared to Spring 2016 and was almost on a par with the peak summer months last year.  Slide5The full Quarterly Report to the BC Ferry Commissioner can be downloaded here 


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

FAC Chair handing over the reins

John Hodgkins, who has chaired Gabriola FAC since 2012, is stepping down from the role ahead of the forthcoming FAC meeting in November. A new Chair will be elected at that meeting.

For the past two years, John has divided his time between Gabriola and his family home in the UK, and he plans to move back there permanently in 2018.  He will continue to participate in the work of the FAC for the remainder of its current term.

John will continue to oversee the FAC website which he introduced in 2012 “to give the FAC much greater community focus”.   He joined the FAC at a time when the whole of the previous committee had stepped down ‘en bloc’ and there was a clear lack of engagement with the wider community on the island.  “Using the website and social media has brought the work of the FAC much closer to the community, giving its members the confidence that they can properly represent the community’s needs in their dialogue with BC Ferries” he said this week.

John said “Over the past few years I’ve had terrific support from colleagues on the FAC and I’m especially grateful to Steven Earle who agreed to co-chair the committee whenever I’ve been away over the past couple of years”

“The Ferry Advisory Committee is, as the name implies, purely advisory – and although we are nominally appointed by BC Ferries, its role is to ensure that the interests of Gabriolans are communicated to BC Ferries whenever the need arises. If that means calling BC Ferries to account for doing something that has caused problems to the community, then so be it” he said.  “BC Ferries managers have respect for FACs that can present them with factual evidence rather than relying on political inertia and a reluctance to accept change.”

“It’s particularly important for any FAC to gain the confidence of BCF management and to understand the constraints within which the corporation is required to operate – but that doesn’t mean that the FAC cannot challenge their decisions if we have the facts to support that challenge.”

“Having a career in transportation management in both public and private sector taught me that commercial organisations will always set their direction based on the anticipated financial outcome, but they are not always as close to understanding the needs of their customers as they might think.  It’s the job of the FAC to try and convince BCF managers to do things differently, and sometimes that’s no easy task”

“Good luck to the committee in their endeavours!”