BC Ferries floating two-ship option to replace Quinsam

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, May 22 2018

BC Ferries is considering - at a very preliminary level - replacing the Quinsam with two smaller ferries instead of a single larger ferry to increase capacity on the Gabriola-Nanaimo route.

Mark Wilson, BC Ferries Vice President, Strategy & Community Engagement, was speaking about the plan at the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) this past Wednesday, May 16, at the Gabriola Arts and Heritage Centre.

He said there is a lot of discussion within BC Ferries about the Gabriola route, recognizing that Gabriola is a heavy commuter route, with passenger density highest between 7:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

“In that window there is a lot of demand on the system and we recognize that.”

The Quinsam is rated for 63 vehicles.

The BCF vessel procurement plan is looking to standardize the fleet, rather than have ships built to specific routes. Up till now, the Gabriola route had been slated for an S100 (100-vehicle) ferry to arrive in 2029.

Wilson said the problem with Gabriola is that “the islands aren’t set up for a big pulse of traffic.”

“If the need is 100 cars on the existing schedule, we could divide that into two 50-vehicle ferries and run more frequently. 

“That reduces the surge.”

He asked the FAC members if more frequency with smaller ships is a good option.

Steve Earle, FAC Chair, said it would help to reduce the big bulge in the middle of the day.

As Wilson said, capacity with either ship would be 100 vehicles transported an hour.

FAC member Paul O’Sullivan asked if the intent then was to run only one ship in the quieter parts of the schedule.

Wilson said, yes, later in the day they would scale back to operating the one ship - but those sailings are ones which currently have fewer than 50 vehicles on them - so the smaller ship would mean savings on fuel cost.

He acknowledged there would be some increase in operating cost because there would need to be more crew added.

Because one of the ships would be tied up overnight in Nanaimo, it might also mean being able to base some of the crew on Vancouver Island instead of Gabriola.

The 50-vehicle ships would require slightly less crew than on the Quinsam, but there would be two crews with two vessels - overall there would be an increase in the number of crew working on the Gabriola route.

The next two ships being built in the BC Ferries vessel procurement plan are the start of the 50-vehicle class, and will be for the routes going to Texada and Port McNeil, replacing the North Island Princess and Quadra Queen II. They will be diesel-hybrid, with the ability to go full electric when BC Ferries and BC Hydro can make charging stations happen.

Because that is the next step in the procurement stage, it means BC Ferries could move to including two more of the same kind for Gabriola in a much shorter time frame, because the ships have already been through the design and costing stage. Wilson said that could put the new ships on the Gabriola route by 2021/2022, rather than 2029 as with the S100. “This may be part of the solution with that class replacement, that we can deal with the situation in the next three to four years.

What comes first - the vessels, or the terminals.

BC Ferries is currently conducting a preliminary terminal development plan consultation with Gabriolans and residents of Nanaimo.

The intent is to do a complete revitalization of both the Gabriola and Nanaimo Harbour terminals. But the current terminal development plan has the terminals serving a 100-vehicle ferry. If two 50-vehicle ferries are running on the route, that changes what requirements there would be on the terminal.

Gabriola FAC member Peggy Richardson asked the BC Ferries staff what would drive the decisions: the vessel choice, or the terminal plan.

Wilson said it was a bit of both, saying that the savings in terminal redevelopment could help cover the increase in operating cost for the smaller vessels. Brian Green, BC Ferries lead on the terminal development plan, said obviously if two smaller ferries are operating on the route, that would have an impact on the terminals his team would recommend.

He expects there to be a decision on the two-ship option this summer.