Gearing up for a busy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is the last – and one of the busiest – holiday weekends of the year on our ferry, and Thanksgiving 2017 is shaping up to be even busier than last year, when ferry traffic looked like this.  So far, ferry traffic is up by 5% this year, so be prepared for even longer line-ups next weekend. Click here for a printable versionthanksgiving

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All change on Horseshoe Bay/Departure Bay ferry

As part of a major shake-up of ferry services in and out of Horseshoe Bay, BC Ferries has announced new schedules to improve services on the Langdale and Bowen Island Routes. These new schedules will include changes to Route 2, between Horseshoe Bay and Departure Bay in Nanaimo.

Starting January 2, a revised schedule is proposed for Route 2, with minor changes to morning sailings and more significant changes to afternoon and evening departures. Initially this schedule runs up to the end of March, but it seems likely that the core service could remain broadly the same through next summer. [Note: schedules for the remainder of 2018 will be published by the end of September]

Here’s what the changes to the schedule will look like. Note that the departure times will no longer be identical from both ends of the route:HSB At our November FAC meeting we will need to consider whether any adjustments should be made to the Gabriola ferry schedule to accommodate connections with the Route 2.

Do you use the ferry to/from Horseshoe Bay? How will these changes affect your journey? Please give us your views using the comment box below.

 

BC Ferries confirms summer weekend sailings are here to stay

After a two-summer trial in 2016 and 2017, BC Ferries has confirmed that the extra weekend sailings at 1.50pm from Gabriola and 2.25pm from Nanaimo will be back next summer and each summer thereafter.

Following a request from the Ferry Advisory Committee in 2015, the ferry corporation agreed to a two-year trial to overcome some of the overloading that was occurring at peak summer weekends.  BC Ferries has indicated that as these sailings are above the minimum service levels outlined in the Coastal Ferry Services Contract, the corporation retains the flexibility to review if traffic or financial conditions change in the future. “Of course, if any reductions were to be considered, BC Ferries would first consult the FAC” said Darin Guenette, BC Ferries’ Public Affairs Manager.

While welcoming this decision, the FAC has already submitted a “Significant Service Request” (SSR) to BC Ferries asking for the extra weekend sailings to be provided year-round, and not just for the 11 weeks of peak summer. That request was officially received by BC Ferries on September 15.

FAC Co-Chair John Hodgkins hopes that BC Ferries will look favourably on the request, pointing out that the past two years has seen traffic grow by more than 8% on the Gabriola route and outside July and August, the mid-afternoon service gap has created overloads on successive weekend ferries from Easter right through to Thanksgiving.  “We have asked BCF to consider year-round operation” he said, “but if that turns out not to be economic, we have asked them to consider extending the period of operation from Easter to Thanksgiving in future years.”

BC Ferries expects to make a decision on the FAC request no later than December 15.

August ferry traffic hits a new peak

Ferry traffic to and from Gabriola is the highest this decade, according to figures released this week by BC Ferries

August’s traffic statistics show 2,000 more vehicles and almost 7,000 more passengers during the month than in August 2015 – meaning that so far in 2017 vehicle traffic has risen by 6.1% – or, put another way, that’s 10,000 more vehicles (5,000 each way) that have been squeezed onto our ferry.

Little wonder then that line-ups and delays are getting longer.

But what’s the answer?  BC Ferries tells us that a new, larger ferry is slated for 2026 – but that’s 9 years away, so must we endure ever longer delays until then, or is there a more creative solution to the problem?  Over the coming months we need to explore every possible option to lessen the pressure and we will be inviting the community to contribute to that process.

Watch this space.

Ferry fares – what next?

Just last week, our new Minister of Transportation pledged that the NDP’s election promises of a 15% reduction in fares on minor routes, a fare freeze on the major routes and a return to free travel for BC Seniors on Mondays to Thursdays would all be honoured “in the next few weeks”. But it seems that pledge may take longer to deliver, and it could easily be early 2018 before those price cuts can be realised.

Ferry fares are regulated by the BC Ferry Commissioner acting (we’re told) independently of the BC Government and BC Ferries. At four year intervals, the Commissioner determines the maximum level of fare increase that BC Ferries can charge in order to bridge any anticipated gap between costs and revenues.  After many years of above-inflation increases, the price cap (the maximum permitted increase) was set in 2016 at 1.9% annually from 2016 until 2019.

That figure will have been based on a range of assumptions about operating costs, funding for new ferries and changes in expected traffic levels. But perhaps the most unpredictable factor is fuel prices, so at the start of each four-year period, the Ferry Commissioner determines a baseline cost per litre for fuel and as prices fluctuate, any underspend or overspend is banked in a regulated fund known as the Fuel Deferral Account.  If fuel prices rise above the set level, the deferral account goes into deficit until such time as prices come down below the set price to sufficiently burn off the debt. If that looks unlikely, BC Ferries will apply a surcharge on fares to bring the deficit down.

The opposite is also true. If fuel prices stay below the set price for a long period, a credit builds up in the deferral account to be used either to shield against future high prices, or it is returned to customers as a fuel rebate on fares.  That’s good news for customers, and since 2015 we have been enjoying rebates of 1% – increasing to 2.9% from April 2016.

These rebates have reduced the credit balance in the deferral account from its $6 million ‘high’ at the start of 2016 and have continued to drain the deferral account despite the acccount returning to zero by the Fall. Since then, the account has been sliding further into deficit as fuel prices have crept up but the rebates to customers have continued.

How long can this go on? Well, it’s entirely possible that BC Ferries was told not to “rock the boat” by ditching the fare rebate ahead of the provincial election. But now they are surely heading to the point where they will be told that the 2.9% rebate must go – and if bulk fuel prices continue to rise it’s entirely possible we could be seeing a fuel surcharge in its place sometime soon.

So, that good news from the NDP could be pre-empted by the 2.9% rebate on fares disappearing first, meaning the fares we pay could go up before their election commitment kicks in.  What cannot be reversed is the decision in April to cancel any fare increase in 2017. That decision stands, and the price cap for 2018 and 2019 remains at 1.9% each year. So, will the NDP wait until that 1.9% fare increase is due to kick in next April before delivering their promised fare cut? Informed sources now suggest that they will.

What a difference a day makes…..

After one of the busiest days of the year this Thursday, it’s amazing to see how much ferrycameasier it is to get on the ferry on a Friday! At 11.15 yesterday, the line-up was right back to the campground. Today it didn’t even reach the overload sign.

Too bad the half fare discount for seniors doesn’t apply on Fridays – it’s the one day of the week that there’s space on most ferries leaving the island. And no overloads means fewer delays too.

It really does pay to leave your trip into town until Friday at this time of the year. Or Saturday. Just look at how much more space there is!

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