FAC asking for adjustments to evening ferry schedule

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Wednesday, May 29 2019

The Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) is asking BC Ferries to change the sailing schedule for the Quinsam so that there could be a sailing later than 7:15 p.m. but earlier than 9:00 p.m.

When the NDP Government “bought back” sailings on the minor routes earlier this year, the Gabriola FAC asked the Gabriola community to choose between adding earlier sailings in the day, or extra sailings in the evening.

When the voting was concluded, according to the FAC, it was an even split between the two options.

The FAC chose to ask BC Ferries for the early sailings to be restored.

Now they are asking BC Ferries to look at how sailings are scheduled in the evening to better fill the gap between when the ferry leaves Nanaimo at 7:15 p.m. and resumes sailing from Gabriola at 8:25 p.m.

Heather O’Sullivan, FAC member, asked for clarification from BC Ferries on the “meal break” which has traditionally been the reason given for that gap in the evening schedule. 

BC Ferries staff explained that the officers are entitled to one half hour uninterrupted for a meal. 

If the ship is running behind, the officers will sometimes take only 15 minutes, the emphasis is making sure the ship gets back on schedule so the 8:25 p.m. leaves on time.

O’Sullivan said the suggestion from the FAC comes from looking at the idea that after 5:00 p.m., the turnaround times while in terminals are faster, as there is typically less traffic.

“Is there a way to look at juggling and shifting the timing of the evenings? Not the 3:45 p.m. from Nanaimo.”

Her suggestion was that if the 7:15 p.m. sailing from Nanaimo left even 15 minutes later, that would allow for more people to get from their Nanaimo commitments to the ferry.

“It could be a critical 15 to 20 minutes. I think our community would be grateful, and it may also help with the on-time performance and pay less for missed meals.”

Peter Simpson, BC Ferries Director of Fleet Operational Strategy, said he thought using turnaround times to find flexibility in the schedule was “a great idea. 

“This has been done at times in the past, where we’ve leveraged the short turnarounds - I don’t know that we’ve done that for a while - we’re really only talking about grabbing 10 or 15 minutes in five-minute intervals.

“When things start to get backed up, the captain and crew are doing what they can to get back on time. We have to be careful with what we squeeze and open up. 

“If I can get a better understanding - start with what ideally you want - we can look at where we can realistically achieve.”

Scott Colbourne, FAC member for the Islands Trust, pointed out the impact on families.

“If you miss that [7:15 p.m.] ferry, you’re getting home two and a half hours later. The wider impact was for people on the evening sailings.”

Simpson said when it came to the sailing restorations, adding the early sailings back in was what was on the table from the Province.

O’Sullivan said, “We would like to do whatever we can to see what we can do to manipulate the post-5:00 p.m. sailings. It is impacting our community.”

Steve Earle, FAC Chair, asked when the half-hour break for the officers needed to start. 

BCF staff said that once the ship has been checked and cleared, the officers hand over controls to the engineers and start the break. Earle asked if the break could be later in the shift.

Simpson said it needs to be sometime during the shift, not at the beginning or the end of the shift, but there is some latitude in when the break could be.

Earle said that if anyone from the public has ideas on what an evening schedule could look like, to please let the FAC know.

Simpson said the earliest any change could be in place would be this fall, which, if possible, could be done to coincide with back-to-school and the associated after-school activities.

Darin Guenette, Communications Manager for BC Ferries, said after the meeting, “If any schedule changes are to be made, they would not be done before Labour Day. 

“If there are changes, they may be implemented later than Labour Day, just not before then. 

“We would need to do some analysis first and then some sort of consultation to understand the effects of moving sailing times.”