A group of investors are close to launching a new high-speed passenger-only ferry service from Downtown Vancouver to Nanaimo.
Few details are available at the moment, but if finalized the first sailing could take off as early as spring 2014 and bridge the two cities directly with a relatively short 68-minute trip each way using high-speed passenger ferry vessels.
The project has been four years in the making and comes in the shadow of four failed passenger-only ferry services between Vancouver and Nanaimo since the 1980s. The earliest operation involved the usage of a hovercraft while the most recent operation, Harbour Lynx, shut down operations in February 2006.
Harbour Lynx’s second-hand catamaran ferry vessel encountered major engine problems that were deemed unrepairable within the constraints of the company’s limited finances. The service met its end when weeks of continuous canceled sailings forced it to file for bankruptcy. Its 40-metre long catamaran vessel was built in 1996 and was previously used in Singapore.
Much has changed since 2006, including population growth, a larger workforce in downtown Vancouver, new developments and further densification, and the opening of the SkyTrain Canada Line.
According to Charles Gauthier from the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, he told News 1130 “it’s hard to say that this will be a success or failure without looking at all the details, but things have dramatically changed since that last service operated between Downtown Vancouver and Downtown Nanaimo, so I think this may be the time it will be much more successful than it was in the past.”
If its proponents have learned from the failures of past experiments, a new, reliable, quick and frequent ferry service could make Nanaimo an even more attractive place to live for those working in downtown Vancouver. It could also bring new tourism to both cities, however, reliability of the service will be key for sustaining the operation over the long-term.
Unlike Harbour Lynx, the new service will utilize at least two high-speed catamaran ferry vessels to allow for regular maintenance and ensure mechanical breakdowns do not immobilize the business. The ferries already exist and will be imported from Asia for second-hand use.
The catamaran ferry vessels will be of similar size to the Harbour Lynx vessel with capacity for approximately 300 seated passengers. Such vessels can typically reach speeds of 60 km/h.
The exact location of the downtown Vancouver ferry terminal is unknown, but it will likely be located at a dock near Canada Place or the Vancouver Convention Centre. Over at Vancouver Island, City of Nanaimo officials hope the ferry service’s terminal could be tied in with a $50 million, 21-storey hotel proposal.
The new private high-speed passenger ferry service will provide BC Ferries with some modest competition for its West Vancouver Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo Departure Bay route. A one-way adult fare on this route, which takes 100 minutes to cross each way and uses some of the fleet’s largest vessels, currently costs $15.50 and also allows vehicles. The route is also among the ferry company’s busiest and most profitable routes.
BC Ferries holds a long-term goal of streamlining its vessels from the current 17 vessel classes to just four or five vessel classes as part of its replacement plan for aging ferries. Introducing new passenger-only services to the second largest ferry system in the world is not off the table.
Featured Image: Stephen Rees