The fate of CFB Esquimalt’s Blue Boat service, which has been shuttling military and civilian defence employees between Colwood and Esquimalt military properties for years, has not been decided.
But there are concerns amidst rumours that the base’s oldest operating vessels, which are more than 50 years old, might not be repaired and returned to Esquimalt harbour in the event they need servicing.
That prompted View Royal’s council to write to Josée Touchette, an Ottawa-based assistant deputy minister of the Department of National Defence, in November urging the department “to maintain a reliable level of blue boat service in the Esquimalt harbour, and ... that a timely replacement plan for the aging fleet is implemented to ensure the long-term viability of this regional service.”
Spearheaded by View Royal Coun. John Rogers, but sent under a council banner, the letter was meant to show support for a service “that makes a difference to those who are enabled by it,” said View Royal Mayor Graham Hill. “It may indeed be something that is a privilege rather than a (right).”
The letter was carbon-copied to CFB Esquimalt’s commander navy Capt. Craig Baines, the Capital Regional District board , the Township of Esquimalt and the City of Colwood.
“Currently no official decision has been made regarding the future of the Blue Boat service and its longer-term maintenance,” navy Lt. Michael McWhinnie, base public affairs officer, said in a statement.
The primary role of the Blue Boats is not to ferry commuting personnel. The vessels act as a “shuttle facilitating the internal movement of personnel between various defence properties adjacent to Esquimalt harbour,” McWhinnie said.
Without it, hundreds of personnel living on the West Shore would be forced back on the gridlocked Trans-Canada and Island highways, an idea that has some people concerned.
The Blue Boat service is critical to keeping more people off the roads, said Dan Spinner, CEO of the WestShore Chamber of Commerce. “And we hope that the base maintains it. It’s an important contribution to the local and regional transportation system.”
The vessels make 13 runs a day, Monday to Friday from 6 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., attracting a total daily ridership of about 800 passengers. Upwards of 9,000 passengers used the service in one month earlier this year.
An estimated 46 per cent of personnel are affected by the “Colwood crawl,” according to base data. There are more than 480 housing units at Colwood’s Belmont Park, the largest military housing community on the South Island.
More traffic on clogged transportation corridors doesn’t bode well for B.C Transit buses already struggling to keep to their schedules.
“Because of the increased congestion and construction we’ve seen across the Capital Region, our buses have slowed down from 25 to 20 kilometres an hour,”
Joanna Linsangan, B.C. Transit’s manager of public relations, said in a statement.
Given Ottawa’s history of making decisions about the base without feedback on local issues that affect local communities, “there’s always a concern with the Blue Boat disappearing,” Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins said, adding this could happen if the government sees the service as an add-on and not valued for its contribution to the region or to hundreds of military and civilian defence commuters.
She plans to discuss the issue with CFB Esquimalt’s commander in the new year.