There is literally a bridge in the way of Vancouver’s highly coveted cruise ship industry.
In the not so distant future, the Port of Vancouver will likely have to overcome the challenge of accommodating larger and taller cruise ships. However, the problem with handling these vessels does not lie with its cruise ship terminal at Canada Place, which is consistently ranked as one of the best cruise ship ports in the world.
Rather, the obstacle that has to be dealt with is the Lions Gate Bridge.
Vessels currently have a clearance of 200 ft under the mid-point of the bridge deck, but that is not enough for the new vessels that will be launched over the coming years.
Simply put, new ships that are taller cannot safely pass through the bridge to get to and from Canada Place in downtown Vancouver.
And cruise ships these days are becoming larger to increase the operational economies of scale in an effort to reduce costs and increase profits.
In fact, some of the largest vessels that call Vancouver its port of call, such as the Emerald Princess and Star Princess, already squeeze under the bridge.
Peter Xotta, the vice-president of planning and operations at the Port of Vancouver, told Daily Hive the port recognizes this potential problem and is already examining options that include building another cruise ship terminal elsewhere.
“We acknowledge that increasing vessel size is an emerging issue in the cruise industry and we are developing short-term and long-term plans to allow business to grow in this important sector,” he said.
“Work that is already underway includes upgrades within the inner harbour and looking at the feasibility of building an additional terminal to meet the future demand of the cruise business.”
He added that the port may potentially explore locations outside of Burrard Inlet, perhaps even a terminal near the Deltaport container facility in Tsawwassen, but that would likely necessitate improving transportation connections south of the Fraser to Delta – namely a George Massey Tunnel replacement and/or a new rail rapid transit line.
Without a cruise ship terminal situated in a location that is accessible to larger vessels, the Port of Vancouver faces the possibility of permanently losing a good portion of its cruise ship business to Seattle.
But Vancouver is not alone with a bridge problem. Over the last few years, Sydney has been losing its cruise ship business market share to Melbourne, Brisbane, and Auckland.
Most vessels cannot get under the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge to reach the terminal, which also struggles from a lack of berth capacity. With a clearance of just 161 ft, the Harbour Bridge’s clearance is even lower than the Lions Gate Bridge.
Canada Place’s future as a cruise ship terminal
Even with the changes in vessel size, it is unlikely Canada Place will completely lose its cruise ship terminal functions.
There are major advantages to retaining Canada Place as a cruise ship terminal, even for the smaller vessels that can fit under the bridge.
The terminal is situated next to major transit connections, especially SkyTrain’s Canada Line that brings passengers to the airport in just 25 minutes.
Its location in downtown Vancouver means egressing and ingressing passengers are within footsteps from restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, major attractions, sports games, and special events. This not only allows an optimal destination experience, but it is also a windfall for local businesses with up to 15,000 passengers passing through the terminal on a peak traffic day.
According to the Port, each cruise ship visit at Canada Place adds $3 million to the local economy, and the industry supports 12,000 jobs and spurs $549 million in total wages each year. Over 300,000 hotel room nights are annually generated by passengers before and after their cruise.
The cruise business in Vancouver is on the upswing, with 840,000 cruise ship passengers traveling on 237 sailings by 33 vessels this year – up from 667,000 passengers on 191 calls by 28 vessels in 2012.
While there are clearly major benefits to using Canada Place, there are also growing pains with the facility.
On peak traffic days, cruise ship terminal operations often spill over into a portion of the Vancouver Convention Centre’s exhibition halls as there is insufficient space to process the high passenger loads within the cruise ship terminal.
As well, the main foot passenger entrance into the cruise ship terminal is a narrow pedestrian path along the side of the vehicle entrance into the facility.
And passengers sometimes wait hours for a taxi due to both Vancouver’s taxi shortage and the insufficient road capacity for all the taxi and coach bus traffic. There is only so much vehicle traffic that Canada Place Way, a two-lane roadway, can handle.
Canada Place was built in time for Expo ’86 as the Canada Pavilion. Besides the cruise ship terminal within the underground levels, the complex includes the Pan Pacific Hotel and the World Trade Centre offices. After the World’s Fair, the Canada Pavilion’s space was converted into the Vancouver Convention Centre.
In 2001, the Port spent $80 million to build a triangular quay extension of the pier to expand the cruise ship terminal. This added a third berth and extended the existing east berth to handle longer vessels.
Then in 2014, the Port discontinued cruise ship terminal operations at the old Ballantyne Pier, located on the eastern side of the Centerm container terminal near the Rogers Sugar building in East Vancouver.
As cruise ship operations at Ballantyne amounted to less than 4% of Vancouver’s total cruise ship traffic, a decision was made to consolidate the operations at Canada Place.
Vancouver is the primary point of origin for cruise ship excursions to Alaska.