It's official: New high-speed ferry service from downtown Vancouver to Nanaimo to launch in 2023

Nov 10 2022, 8:10 pm

A high-speed commuter passenger ferry service between downtown Vancouver and downtown Nanaimo will return in 2023, marking the first time of the existence of such a service between the two destinations in more than 17 years — the last time it was attempted.

Vancouver Island Ferry Company (VIFC) officially announced today its timeline of starting operations by next summer.

It would operate from the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre at the Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building in Coal Harbour, and from the Nanaimo Port Authority facility.

Each trip would take only about 70 minutes, operated by an initial fleet of two high-speed catamaran vessels built by Dutch-based shipbuilder Damen Group. Each vessel will have a capacity for over 350 passengers across multiple seating classes.

VIFC is promising a seamless booking process with reservable seats, and refreshments. More details on the launch plans, sailing schedules, and fare prices will be released in early 2023.

In contrast, BC Ferries’ service between Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver and Departure Bay near downtown Nanaimo takes about 100 minutes, not including the travel time on the road between Horseshoe Bay and downtown Vancouver.

“Islanders and Mainlanders have been asking for a modern, fast, and cost-effective way to travel between the Island and Vancouver. We are so excited to be bringing forward an essential transportation service to the region and are committed to its long-term success,” said Alastair Caddick, CEO of VIFC, in a statement.

VIFC first announced its plan to launch such a private service in September 2021, but this should not be confused with the earlier failed separate attempt by Island Ferries, which collapsed in 2019 due to investor issues.

VIFC is spearheaded and owned by Conqora Capital Partner, a Toronto-based private equity firm. It is also a partnership with both the Snuneymuxw First Nation and the Nanaimo Port Authority.

“Vancouver Island Ferry Company will bring many positive economic impacts to the region. Looking at tourism, the opportunity is extraordinary,” said Donna Hais, the chair of the board of the Nanaimo Port Authority.

“The ability to have people in Vancouver come over for the day, weekend, or longer and see what a fabulous community we have and really bring the world here in a modern and reliable new way, is incredible.”

The last time a high-speed catamaran passenger ferry service operated between the downtowns of Vancouver and Nanaimo was in 2006, when Harbour Lynx folded after just three years of business. Harbour Lynx shut down its operations after its single catamaran vessel broke down from serious mechanical issues. With the use of two vessels, and with Damen’s existing maintenance service hub in Victoria, VIFC’s business model has far greater reliability and redundancy over its predecessor on the same route.

VIFC will also be significantly different from the now-defunct V2V Vacations service — a high-speed catamaran passenger ferry between downtown Vancouver and Victoria Inner Harbour, operated as a luxury tourist and sightseeing experience. Unlike V2V, the new VIFC service will have more economical fare options to allow the potential use of commuters travelling between Vancouver Island and Metro Vancouver. V2V shut down in early 2020, before the pandemic, after just over two years of business.

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