Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

BC Ferries will be shifting the schedule of the Gabriola ferry this coming summer, to alleviate the build up of summer traffic in the evenings at the Nanaimo Terminal.

That according to BC Ferries communications staff, who met with the members of the Gabriola Ferry Advisory Committee on May 29 to discuss a number of issues around the Gabriola route.

On Fridays from July 1 to Aug 31, 2024, the schedule for the second ship will be adjusted to start and end on sailing later in the day.

This will mean the 7:05am sailing from Gabriola will be cancelled, and there will be a 5:40pm leaving Nanaimo added to the schedule.

BC Ferries has not said whether this will mean there will be a 6:15 leaving Gabriola added to the schedule in the evenings, or if the ship will deadhead back to its overnight berth in Nanaimo Harbour.

BC Ferries is also going to shift the sailings for an entire week in August, to better see how such a change in schedule will impact the traffic. At the May FAC meeting, BC Ferries gave the dates as August 11 and August 17 – but had not finalized the dates as of press time.

Tamara Olson, BCF Community Relations Manager, said the finalized summer schedule will be issued within the next week.

The shift in the schedule was one way the FAC had said BCF could reduce the number of travellers stuck waiting roadside in downtown Nanaimo.

Heather O’Sullivan, FAC co-Chair, spoke to those Nanaimo lineups that have occurred in the summer since the two-ship system started.

“Very very often, in the summer season, there are overloads, people are stuck outside the terminal, people have no access to washrooms, they have no access to water, they can’t leave their vehicles because they don’t know when the lineup will move, they are stuck in the heat, they are in an area with a lot of social issues going on, it’s not like being in a park.

“It’s really unacceptable how much discomfort people are experiencing when they are stuck outside the terminal.”

Along with the change in the schedule, to keep the two-ship system running a bit longer in the evenings, O’Sullivan said allowing more vehicles to enter the terminal to wait would also help.

Current policy for BC Ferries is to only allow one ship’s worth of vehicles into the terminal.

Allowing more vehicles to drive into the terminal and park would allow people to at least get out of their cars, and have access to facilities.

O’Sullivan said doing this is, “what we [the FAC] see as a low hanging fruit in terms of addressing that issue of passenger discomfort.

“It’s around people not knowing how long they’ll be stuck out there, when they’ll be on a sailing.

“It seems to the FAC to be a cost free way of reducing that lineup. But it’s not in any way the only way to address it. Just one of the cheaper and more obvious ways.”

As she then pointed out, ultimately the only real way to fully reduce those Nanaimo lineups is to adjust the service of the second boat.

O’Sullivan said, “the issue of people stuck outside the terminal on the Nanaimo side. It can’t continue…I would invite any BCF Executive member to spend 2 to 3 hours in a hot car on Front Street, without access to washroom and water, and then after experiencing that, come back to argue why it’s not an important issue.”

Steve Earle, co-Chair for the FAC, said if anyone from BC Ferries is going to try and study the problem, they need to visit the Nanaimo terminal on a hot summer friday evening.

“If they come up in the afternoon, they won’t see anything.”

Olson asked if there was a solution for filling the terminal, would that alleviate issues for amenities like washrooms?

O’Sullivan said, “it won’t completely alleviate them, the lineup is just too big. On major overloads, it is a drop in the bucket.”

She added that part of the rationale for the ‘one ship’s load’ decision for the terminal was because with two ships, there is a shorter turnaround between sailings.

On the current schedule though, that rationale disappears after the second ship stops sailing.

Dangerous Goods proposal

The schedule conversation also turned to the issue of the Gabriola route no longer having enough capacity for the Dangerous Goods suppliers coming to Gabriola.

FAC Member Henry Reeve spoke on behalf of the Gabriola committee.

Reeve said, “so far this calendar year, we’ve had six dangerous goods sailings overbooked.

“Several of those have been multiple trucks that were rejected from the sailing.

“There are several users on the island unable to get a spot on the DG sailings for three weeks consecutive.”

He said there are two aspects to the issue. One is how the reservations are made for the spots on the vessel, and the other is the limited number of spots on the vessel.

The system is set up so that on the first monday of the  month, companies can book sailings for the following month.

For example, on June 1, at 8am, the reservation system opened and was overloaded by a bunch of suppliers trying to book the dangerous goods spots for August.

Reeve said, “if someone doesn’t show up, there’s no penalty to being applied to that. We know on other routes, there are penalties. That’s one side.”

He said the other problem is, the island’s population has doubled since the Quinsam first showed up in 1982.

The Quinsam had six spots on a dangerous goods sailing.

The current Island Class vessels have five.

Reeve sad, “our population has doubled, but we have fewer dangerous goods spots than we did back when the Quinsam became our boat.

“We’ve reduced our dangerous goods capacity, but we have twice as many people as we used to have. The fundamental issue is capacity. What we’re really asking for is for that capacity to be increased.”

Earle said what the FAC is asking for is additional dangerous goods sailings on Fridays. He said it would likely be at the same times as the Wednesday dangerous goods sailings. At 10:30am leaving Nanaimo, and 5:40pm leaving Gabriola.

Specifics of this are still being discussed between FAC members and BC Ferries.

BC Ferries staff said the earliest any change could likely be made would be July 1, likely in conjunction with the changes proposed for the shift in the second ship schedule.

If the two were to coincide, it would mean the 5:40 on Fridays would become a dangerous goods sailing, but there would now be a 6:15 sailing leaving Gabriola.

Olson said there is a task group at BC Ferries working on the dangerous goods issue, considering all the information the FAC has been providing.

She said it is clear, the reservation process is not working.

She also said BC Ferries, “recognizes this is essential and important to get these trucks over to the island.”

Immediate steps, she said, are tied to the schedule changes that have been requested by the FAC.

O’Sullivan asked, in terms of ferry capacity, would there be any way to increase the number of vehicles allowed on a dangerous goods sailing if there were more staff?

Olson said no, the spaces are determined by Transport Canada regulations around staging of the vehicles and having space between them on the vehicle deck – based on what each vehicle is carrying.

She added BC Ferries is working to pro-actively call the suppliers who have existing reservations well ahead of each of the dangerous goods deadlines, to encourage them to release their reservations if they are not going to use them, to prevent no-shows on those weeks.

“We’ll continue to fight that good fight, while we look for a more permanent solution.”

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