Quinsam shrinks – but how, when and why?

For as long as most of us can remember, the Quinsam had capacity for 70 vehicles – or, as BC Ferries refers to them, 70 AEQs (automobile equivalents).  The AEQ was, quite simply, a measure of deck space – notionally 5.3 metres – which was deemed to be the equivalent of one car length. When commercial vehicles and buses used the ferry, they would be counted as multiples of 1 AEQ, on the basis that a large semi-truck would occupy the space of 3 cars,  a bus the space of 2 – and so on. The value of this calculation was that it enabled BC Ferries to report accurately on what percentage of each route’s vehicle capacity was actually being used.

In reality, of course, 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 – up to 80 automobile equivalents.

Now, for reasons best known to BC Ferries, Quinsam’s capacity has dropped from 70 AEQ’s to just 63.  We’re told that’s because 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.  Quinsam will continue to carry 75 or more vehicles at busy times, so the new measure seems, well, meaningless.

What’s worse is that it now means vehicle utilisation statistics reported to government are suddenly 10% higher than they were before. In the 3 months from July to September 2016, BC Ferries reported that our ferry operated at almost 66% of available capacity – when last summer the reported figure was just 57%. Sure, there’s an explanation that an AEQ is now longer, but no explanation why.  

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.

No, it hasn’t.

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%. So Quinsam hasn’t shrunk after all, and there’s no suggestion that fewer vehicles are being allowed on.  Vehicle utilisation is increasing, that’s plain for anyone to see, but why change the formula now?

Maybe BC Ferries can explain the logic.

Meanwhile, here is a graph showing the vehicle utilisation each quarter since 2013 – using the formula that has served everyone well since forever. To enable this comparison to be maintained, the FAC will continue to apply the “old” AEQ formula during 2017.

Percentage of vehicle capacity utilised each quarter – Route 19 (based on Quinsam’s 70 AEQ capacity)


End of Year Report from the Chair

Signs of improvement – but could do better

FAC Chair John  Hodgkins takes a look back at 2016 and finds signs of improvement on Gabriola’s ferry service

By the end of 2016,  vehicle traffic on the Gabriola ferry route will have increased almost 4% over 2015, and passenger traffic will be up nearly 2%.

BC Ferries will tell us it’s down to a weak Canadian dollar attracting more visitors from south of the border, and more Canadians taking their vacations at home – and to some degree it is, but what do these figures actually mean for Gabriolans facing ever longer line-ups for our ferry?

The big picture

BC Ferries data isn’t always straightforward when it comes to comparing like with like (no surprise there then, I hear you say).  The corporation reports by fiscal year (FY) ending in March, which means some years include one Easter holiday, some (like FYs 2008, 2013 and 2016) have two – and typically the following year will have none at all. For that reason, the FAC usually monitors ferry traffic by calendar year to iron out the “Easter effect”.

Another complexity is BC Ferries’ method of counting vehicles. Each month they publish actual vehicle numbers (counting every vehicle as 1, irrespective of size). By the time the annual reports are published, vehicle numbers have been converted to AEQs (automobile equivalents) where commercial vehicles and buses count as 2 or 3 AEQs, depending on size. So, at the year end, the reported numbers using Route 19 are inflated by around 5.5% once they are expressed as AEQs. Simple, or what?

So let’s take a look at how 2016 (and, from what we are seeing, the remainder of this fiscal year to March 2017) actually compares to previous years.   Continue reading

Traffic and safety concerns raised once more

Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee is deeply concerned about safety on the roadways immediately around the ferry terminal at Descanso Bay and in the area of the traffic queue along Taylor Bay Road, where dangerous and illegal manoeuvers are common amongst those wanting to ensure their position in the line-up. The situation is even more hazardous at present because of slippery surfaces and busy holiday traffic.

In August 2015 the FAC wrote to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure pointing out the danger to pedestrians and cyclists at the terminal itself. Without even a crosswalk for pedestrians, the situation at the terminal is extremely dangerous, especially when the ferry is loading and unloading and the traffic level is intense and chaotic. Our request for a study of traffic safety was supported by the Gabriola Local Trust Committee, the Gabriola Transportation Advisory Commission, the Regional District of Nanaimo, School District 68 and the Gabriola Island RCMP but so far, nothing has been done by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI).

In September of 2016 the FAC wrote again to MoTI, emphasizing the very dangerous situation on Taylor Bay Road stating that: “Summer 2016 has seen further growth in ferry traffic, with long queues most days along Taylor Bay Road. Increasing numbers of drivers are making U-turns on Taylor Bay Road, leading to at least one accident and several near-misses. RCMP officers have cautioned or ticketed drivers making dangerous and illegal U-turns on the highway.” The Ministry was asked to consider a number of different options for re-routing the line-up, but to date has not responded to our request.

The issue of road safety was also a major part of the FAC’s meeting with BC Ferries in November 2016, where the FAC put forward a proposal to re-route the ferry line-up from narrow and curvy Taylor Bay Road where about 80% of drivers are forced to make a U-turn to join the queue, to North Road.

It’s not just the FAC that is concerned about safety around the ferry terminal. Gabriola residents are taking to social media once more since the winter weather arrived, concerned about drivers ignoring traffic signs, making illegal u-turns and blocking the traffic lane by parking across Mallett Creek bridge.

The FAC is calling on BC Ferries and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure to take immediate action to resolve the traffic safety issues around the ferry terminal on Gabriola, and to make our roads safer for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists.

FAC meeting with BC Ferries this Friday

Gabriola FAC members will be meeting with BC Ferries management this Friday (November 18) in the Agricultural Hall, South Road, starting at 9am.  The agenda for this meeting can be found here

Members of the public are welcome to attend, but please keep in mind that this is not an open-house meeting, so if you wish to speak on any topic please email us with the topic on which you would like to speak before the meeting at gabriola.fac@gmail.com, or speak to the Vice-Chair, Steven Earle, before the start of the meeting.


Busiest summer on our ferry since 2010

September’s traffic statistics published recently by BC Ferries show that vehicle traffic was 5.2% up on September 2015 and passenger traffic up 4.2% – confirming that summer 2016 has been the busiest for ferry traffic since 2010, and explaining why our ferry line-ups have been exceptional this year.

Between June and September, more than 129,000 vehicles were carried this year – 5,000 more than last summer, and 8,000 more than Summer 2014, the year following our ferry cuts. The last time our summer ferry traffic was busier was 2010, when nearly 135,000 vehicles were recorded.  Since 2010, ferry traffic has been in steady decline due to the combined effect of high fares and a weakened economy.

Passenger numbers have followed a similar trend – with over 292,000 passengers carried between June and September – up by 5,000 from last year and a massive 15,000 more than Summer 2014 – and the highest since 2010, when 306,000 passengers travelled.

At first sight, this is great news for the longer term sustainability of our ferry service – but we know that traffic on our late evening ferries is stubbornly low and showing little sign of improving. The majority of new traffic appears to be focussed on our daytime ferries – sailings that are already full for much of the year – and in peak summer that simply means longer line-ups and more missed ferries.

Summer 2016 also saw the reinstatement (on a 2-year trial) of the early afternoon weekend sailings during July and August. They appear to have been well used, and will return next year. Once we have detailed traffic numbers from BC Ferries, we aim to provide a detailed appraisal of the impact they have had on weekend traffic.

Monthly traffic statistics can be found on our Route 19 Performance page.

BC Ferries announces new fares promotion

BC Ferries has announced a new fleetwide fares promotion offering 50% off standard vehicle fares on selected sailings between November 14 and December 18. These discounts will apply to vehicle fares only (not passenger fares) and apply to cars, motorcycles, trucks, SUVs, vans and recreational vehicles (up to the first 20 feet of vehicle length). The extra per-foot charges for overlength vehicles and commercial vehicles will not be discounted.

For Gabriola, this means the standard round-trip vehicle fare of $26.95 reduces to $13.50, with Experience Card holders paying the same $13.50 fare instead of their regular discounted rate of $17.20 on the following sailings leaving Nanaimo:



A 50% reduction in vehicle fares will also be available on either ferry route between Nanaimo and Vancouver, cutting the regular fare from $56.45 to $28.25 on the following sailings:


According to BC Ferries, the choice of sailings on the Gabriola route is a balance between offering reductions on lower utilised sailings and  trying to keep the promotion relatively straightforward across the system – so once again, there will be no discounted sailings on Fridays, or after 10am on Sundays.

Your Ferry Advisory Committee continues to press BC Ferries to discount our late evening fares on a permanent basis, to encourage greater use of under-utilised ferry capacity and help reduce some of the overloading on daytime sailings.

Ferry Advisory Committee wants ferry line-up moved from Taylor Bay Road

Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee is calling for the relocation of the traffic line-up from Taylor Bay Road to North Road in the light of serious safety concerns this past year.

In June 2016, FAC members highlighted their concerns to BC Ferries, but since the waiting area is on the highway, the corporation has no powers to regulate where vehicles wait for the ferry. FAC representatives met with Ministry officials on June 14 asking for a review of traffic arrangements, suggesting a site meeting during the summer months, when traffic is heaviest. A formal request from the FAC followed at the end of June.taylorbay

The government’s contract with BC Ferries commits the Province to providing space for 76 auto equivalents (AEQs) in the line-up (one ferry load), but drivers leaving gaps in the line-up mean that the last few spaces are now beyond the recognised turning bay, resulting in dangerous conditions caused by drivers making unsafe U-turns to ensure their place on the ferry.

The problem was first highlighted by the FAC in 2014, when government cuts led to long tail-backs of traffic waiting for fewer ferries. At that time, Ministry staff offered a short-term solution in the form of advisory signage to a new U-turn point at Ivory Way, together with extra mandatory signs to prevent U-turns along Taylor Bay Road. Despite the extra signage, and reinstatement of the full daytime ferry service, the volume of traffic waiting to board the ferry continues to grow – and during the summer months, line-ups stretching to Ivory Way are a regular occurrence.


Photo : Gabriola Sounder

Summer 2016 has seen further growth in ferry traffic, with long queues most days along Taylor Bay Road. Increasing numbers of drivers are making U-turns on Taylor Bay Road, leading to at least one accident and several near-misses. RCMP officers have cautioned or ticketed drivers making dangerous and illegal U-turns on the highway.

The FAC believes Taylor Bay Road is the wrong place for ferry traffic. “Its narrow width, coupled with a series of bends and blind summits makes it a dangerous place to encounter parked vehicles, let alone a vehicle making a U-turn across both traffic lanes,” says John Hodgkins, FAC Chair “and, since only 20% of ferry traffic originates from the Taylor Bay direction, that means at least 3 out of every 4 vehicles have to turn somewhere once the line-up rounds the corner into Taylor Bay Road.”

The FAC considers the only long-term solution is to take traffic away from Taylor Bay Road and create the line-up on North Road or South Road, where the majority of ferry traffic originates and there’s more space available. As FAC Vice-Chair Steven Earle puts it “Experience this summer has demonstrated that it’s not possible to safely manage ferry traffic on Taylor Bay Road, and a new solution has to be found and implemented – ideally before summer 2017”

The Ferry Advisory Committee has developed a range of options for consideration and is asking the Ministry of Transportation & Infrastructure to prioritise a detailed appraisal of the alternatives.

Click on the image below to download a copy of the FAC submission.ferry-traffic-management-sept-2016