BCF adding ‘new’ sailings for July/August of 2016 & 2017

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder Staff

Tuesday, April 5 2016

The weekend afternoon sailings will be back on the Gabriola ferry schedule this summer, as announced by the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Commission (FAC) this past week.

On the summer schedule for BC Ferries’ Route 19, the 1:50 p.m. sailing from Gabriola and 2:25 p.m. sailing from Nanaimo will not be cancelled on weekends starting with Saturday, July 4, until Sunday, September 4. 

BC Ferries confirmed the change this past week, saying this is a two-year pilot project to see what impact adding those sailings back in will have on the route.

The Gabriola FAC has been lobbying BC Ferries to restore the weekend sailings as a pilot project since cutbacks were made to all the BC Ferries’ routes in 2014. 

According to FAC Chair John Hodgkins, while traffic levels on most BCF routes have recovered to pre-2014 levels, the traffic on the Gabriola route has yet to reach the pre-2014 levels.

“Recovery has been slowest during the peak summer months...the reduced weekend service had been unable to deliver adequate daytime capacity in the summer. 

The FAC argued this was due in large part to the missing early afternoon sailings.”

According to Hodgkins, “This decision by BC Ferries follows three months of critical analysis by BCF management, who also had to convince the Province that the extra services would not dilute the financial savings achieved in 2014.”

Darin Guenette, BCF Manager of Public Affairs, said that during the next two peak seasons, BC Ferries will continue to analyze the effects of adding these sailings and work with the FAC to explore scheduling impacts.

As Hodgkins had explained, an important factor for the FAC in working to have the sailings restored was to not lose sailings from another part of the schedule. 

Past requests for additional sailings have had either BCF or the provincial government say the addition in one part of the schedule would mean a subtraction somewhere else in that route’s schedule.

Guenette said, “There will not be any sailings removed from the schedule in order to compensate for these weekend sailing additions, rather…these are ‘net, new sailings.’”

Mark Collins, BCF Vice-President of Strategic Planning and Community Engagement, said once the two summers are over, the ferry corporation will be looking at more than just the financial numbers to decide if the pilot project has been a success.

“We’re looking for it to be financially viable - but we also want to know what success looks like from a community perspective.”

At the upcoming May meeting of the FAC on Gabriola which he and other BCF staff will be attending, Collins said the FAC members will be asked “what other criteria should we be measuring this against.”

As to why BCF is running the project over two years, Collins said, “We wanted to get two points on the graph - sometimes just one year can be a quirk for one reason that might not be recognized.

“The more data you have, the better you’re able to isolate what’s working and what’s not.

“We’re responding to a specific request from the FAC, that was the specific request and that’s what we’re responding to.”

Hodgkins welcomed the news of the pilot project, saying the FAC was pleased to have it approved since similar requests on some other routes had failed to deliver the stringent business case required by BC Ferries.

“In our negotiation with BC Ferries, we were able to demonstrate that the potential extra revenue would make a significant contribution towards covering the cost of an additional round trip – and we explored with BC Ferries how they might deliver the extra services at marginal cost. We acknowledged that outside the peak summer period the case was less convincing, but we pressed BC Ferries to identify a solution that would not impact on services at other times of the day.”

“Most importantly, we have a decision from BC Ferries that will hopefully encourage more tourists back to Gabriola in 2016 – and bring a much-needed boost to our local economy.”