BC Ferries and the provincial government should consider “big ideas” over the long term, when developing a vision and master plan for the future of the coastal ferry services.
Amongst those ideas in a released independent report this year, commissioned by the BC Ministry of Transportation, is the consideration of a new BC Ferries terminal at Vancouver International Airport (YVR) — on Iona Island, immediately north of Sea Island in Richmond.
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Such a terminal at this location would have the “potential to significantly reduce crossing times to Vancouver Island while offering better integration with Vancouver International Airport and the Canada Line.” With a new terminal at Iona Island, strategically next to YVR, it would “support an integrated transportation hub.”
This is not the first time a new ferry terminal has been floated as an idea for the airport. In the 2000s, there were discussions of building a new ferry terminal at YVR or at Bridgeport to help transport 2010 Olympic Winter Games event spectators to Squamish, where they would board buses for the remaining leg of their journey to Whistler.
Much more recently, the Port of Vancouver is considering building a new cruise ship terminal at the mouth of the Fraser River — either in Delta and Richmond, which includes the potential for a Sea Island or Iona Island location. The port is expected to release further details next year when it engages with the public on the idea.
Any ferry terminal or cruise ship terminal would likely have to be designed in a way that accommodates and reserves Vancouver Airpot Authority’s future potential option for a fourth new runway, built as a foreshore infill addition on the west side of Sea Island.
Other suggestions worthy of consideration outlined in the coastal ferry services report entail a passenger-only ferry service between downtown Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast.
The report, conducted by consultant Blair Redlin, raises the increasing concern of overloads, sailing waits, and capacity constraints as a result of rising ridership demand.
Despite recent major service increases, BC Ferries is struggling to keep up with demand; during the 2017 fiscal year, the ferry corporation provided 1,768 extra round trips above the required contracted minimum, but “overloads remain a problem.”
The busiest route between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay is particularly a concern, reaching 100% capacity throughout the summer. A lack of capacity in the future could restrict the growth of tourism in the Victoria region.
In the same fiscal year, BC Ferries recorded a systemwide on-time performance (OTP) of 89.5%, while its fleet reliability score was 99.69%, meaning only 0.3% of scheduled sailings were cancelled due to mechanical issues related to vessels, terminals, or crew availability. The OTP has been in a steadily declining trend over in recent years due to higher traffic levels and weather-related delays.
“Increasing traffic over the last few years has significantly affected service quality resulting in a higher percentage of overloads and a decrease in on-time performance,” reads the report.
OTP is particularly a challenge for Horseshoe Bay terminal in West Vancouver because of its constrained configuration. But beyond the parameters of the report, BC Ferries is already contemplating an ambitious long-term rebuild of the terminal that would realign the berths, construct a major new terminal building with significant amenities, and improve road connections and ground transportation.
The overhaul of Horseshoe Bay terminal is one of the largest components of BC Ferries’ 12-year, $3.9-billion plan of upgrading its ferry terminals and replacing ageing vessels.
A dozen terminals are envisioned to see major upgrades, including the busy terminals at Swartz Bay and Nanaimo Harbour.
The report also highlighted the apparent need for more spare vessels to improve contingency plans when a vessel goes out of service unexpectedly.
“The BC Ferries system needs more resilience and a better ability to respond to unforeseen mechanical problems or other incidents that take vessels out of service,” states the report.
When it comes to ground access, the report identified a need for inter-agency planning between BC Ferries, BC Transit, and TransLink, particularly for how passengers on the busier routes can access the ferry system by modes other than the private vehicle.
The provincial government announced today it will be engaging in a public consultation process on a long-term vision for BC Ferries, with an online survey launched early in the new year.
“Decisions on transportation investments have long-lasting impacts – that’s why it’s important that the people of British Columbia should have a say in the future of coastal ferry transportation,” said Claire Trevena, BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, in a statement.
“Our next step is to develop a broad provincial vision so we can be sure that we have the right ferry services in place in the future.”
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