Steven Earle, for the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee

Gabriolans are justifiably frustrated because the ferry is so often behind schedule. This seems to have been the case for years, but is clearly getting worse, and many of us are negatively affected, at least some of the time.

Scheduling on Route 19 is a challenge. Gabriolans expect BC Ferries to put on as many sailings as possible, starting as early in the morning as possible and continuing as late into the evening as possible. BC Ferries genuinely wants to do that, but they have to work within a restricted budget and under the constraints of their contract with the crew. They have created a schedule that works in theory (and it does work on days when the traffic is light) but goes pear shaped when the loads are heavy.

So why can’t it work all the time?  We know the distance and the ship’s speed. We know approximately how long it takes to load and unload, but this is where it gets difficult, because the bigger the load, the longer that takes. The problem really starts with overloads, because it takes much longer to fill the ferry when there is an overload. Typically, the crew has to stop loading, and then assess how much space is left, and then work to squeeze on as many vehicles as possible, a few at a time. The issue is worse on this side because there are no terminal staff to help out. The other problem is that overloads don’t happen every day—even during the peak season—and at some times of the year they are quite rare. The amount of traffic is also hard to predict as it is affected by the weather and by special events happening in both Nanaimo and on Gabriola.

Sailing delays happen because the schedule is too tight to accommodate the overload problem. It doesn’t help that the Quinsam is currently experiencing a mechanical issue that prevents her from going over 10 knots. That speed is fast enough to keep on schedule on low-traffic days, but it doesn’t allow the ship to make up time when there are delays. The simplest solution to these problems would be to reduce the number of sailings, but that would likely mean even longer line-ups and greater frustration. Nobody wants that. Another solution would be to create a schedule that changes from day to day, with fewer sailings on busy days, and more on quieter days. We don’t think that’s going to float either.

There is one thing that many of us could do to help, and that is to avoid travelling by car when overloads are likely. Not everyone has that flexibility, but those that do could avoid the busiest days altogether: Tuesdays and Thursdays.  And we could avoid leaving Gabriola between 8:50 and 12:35 on weekdays, or returning on the 3:45 or the 5:10. Some of us could leave our cars behind for some trips, and take a bike or walk.

The FAC doesn’t have the answers, and nor does BC Ferries, but we know that Gabriolans are smart, so we welcome your constructive suggestions. They do listen to us (some of the time!) so good ideas do have a chance of being put into practice.

Please e-mail your great ideas on how to make the ferry work better to:

***Please note that the Gabriola FAC Facebook account is only used for the purpose of providing information to the community and is not monitored for feedback. The Gabriola FAC is also not able to moderate Facebook discussions.

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  1. No more overloads. If you miss it, you didn’t get there on time. Often happens when you bend over to please some you end up screwing others. Keep it simple and stand by the rules. If your car isn’t ahead of the line cut off, so be it!

  2. A few years ago, the FAC debated with BC Ferries the merits of reducing Quinsam’s speed to save fuel and reduce emissions. At that time, Quinsam was routinely making the crossing at up to 12 knots, Reducing speed to 9 or 10 knots achieved significant fuel savings and it’s likely that BC Ferries has now invoked speed restrictions as a means of recouping some of its lost income this year. Having said that, a reduction in speed only accounts for 2-3 minutes on each crossing; it’s the process of loading and unloading that needs attention.

  3. A major cause of delay is the boarding/disembarking of passengers. A group can walk to the ferry at Nanaimo in under a minute. The majority do this well.

    The process stretches to two or three minutes as stragglers join in. At Gabriola the process repeats, and the same stragglers take their time disembarking while most people have been ready to leave before the ferry docks. I’ve observed this many times. I am not referring to disabled people. The ferry workers help any pedestrians needing help and do a fine job of loading vehicles. Repeat this delay of one to two minutes each sailing and you lose the schedule.

    Perhaps a deckhand could walk through each lounge reminding people to prepare to leave? Or an announcement five minutes before docking?

  4. Those whom work in Nanaimo and need our vehicles to drive to work cannot avoid the busy times. I am having to line up 2 sailings in advance in order to be sure to get to work on time. I suggest the option for residents if Gabriola, whom work in Nanaimo bye offered the option to purchase a guaranteed loading pass. I currently spend $500/month commuting in order to earn a living wage. As there is minimal parking @ the Gabriola ferry terminal many are forced to drive across ( Robbins parking is unsafe and also expensive ) In order to sustain this, I need to know I can rely on the ferries. At this point we are in the slow season and the consistent late and overloaded ferries will only increase. I’m also concerned that the new proposed ferries will actually take less cars/hour? I’m curious how this will help our current situation and wether costs will be raised.

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