In an effort to reduce noise and emissions from the diesel buses shuffling cruise ship passengers through the James Bay neighbourhood, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) will be introducing an electric double decker bus this season.
Beginning in April, the bus will be used as part of a one-year pilot project that will evaluate the feasibility of electric bus transportation for the cruise tourism industry compared to conventional diesel buses.
During a typical week of the cruise season, 15 to 20 buses pick up passengers at Ogden Point for excursions to Craigdarroch Castle, Buchart Gardens or downtown. On the weekend, that number spikes to 50 to 60 buses coming and going through the James Bay neighbourhood.
For GVHA CEO Ian Robertson, having a working terminal that’s accessed through a neighbourhood has provided a number of challenges throughout the years.
“We recognize there will always be an impact and the cruise business is going to grow. Having said that, we also recognize there are aspects we can take to mitigate the impact,” said Robertson, noting the manufacturer approached the harbour authority about testing the bus.
“The use of the electric bus is one piece, but I would call it the anchor tenant of a ground transportation plan.”
For the past several months, the GVHA has been working with key stakeholders to come up with a number of initiatives that take into account social, economic and environmental components of cruise ship passengers and crew going to and from Ogden Point.
One of those initiatives is working more closely with the cruise lines to promote the walkability of Ogden Point to downtown. Of the approximate 533,000 passengers that came into Victoria last year, 25 per cent of them walked from the terminal — a number Robertson said is good, but could be higher.
Part of the problem, noted Robertson, is there is little information provided to passengers on board that promote the walkability of Victoria, even though the demographics of a typical passenger has significantly changed during the last 10 to 15 years to be much more active.
During a survey of passengers getting back onto ships last year, one of the consistent messages the GVHA heard was they had no idea how beautiful Victoria and James Bay were, and they loved walking through the neighbourhood on their way to downtown.
“We think we can really do a much better job in promoting that and we’re going to,” said Robertson. “Overall the ground transportation plan is about moving people on and off the terminal and recognizing that there is a component that uses motor coaches, so the electric bus is one part of that.”
The GVHA is also providing incentives for tour operators that run shore excursions to use newer buses. Operators that uses buses newer than 2005 will have the $2.05 passenger pickup fee at the terminal waved. Those who use buses that are older will have the fee increased to $3.
In addition, the GVHA is working with pedi cab and bike operators to increase their contracts from one-year terms to three-year terms in order to create more business certainty and hopefully more bikes.
“The fewer buses we can use then the better it is for the neighbourhood,” Robertson said.
The 2016 cruise season kicks off April 3 with the arrival of the Star Princess. After that, another 227 ships will pull into Victoria — two more than last year.
The largest cruise ship ever on the Alaskan route, the Royal Caribbean International’s Explorer of the Seas, will make 21 calls to Ogden Point this year and will be the first voyager-class cruise ship to make regular stops in Victoria.
At more than 1,000 feet long and nearly 158 feet wide, the Explorer has a capacity of 3,100 guests and is expected to generate an additional $1.3 million in direct guest spending throughout the capital region.
Victoria’s cruise tourism industry contributes more than $100 million annually to the regional economy.
The GVHA plans to make Victoria the most popular and desired port on the West Coast, and a port home for one ship by 2020.