Do the Gulf Islands need passenger-only ferry service? That’s a question being posed by the Capital Regional District, which is now requesting proposals for a business case study that could be used for a pilot project.
The study is being commissioned by the CRD as a transportation initiative that would include the Southern Gulf Islands (North and South Pender, Mayne, Saturna, and Galiano), Salt Spring Island and the Town of Sidney. An early plan calls for five routes between the islands to provide a low-emission alternative transportation option for residents and tourists.
- Sidney to Port Browning (Vancouver Island, Pender Island)
- Lyall Bay, Hope Bay, Horton Bay (Saturna, Pender, Mayne)
- Montague Harbour, Miners Bay, Ganges Harbour (Galiano, Mayne, Salt Spring)
- Mill Bay to Patricia Bay (Vancouver Island)
- Ganges Harbour to Sidney (Salt Spring, Vancouver Island)
Wayne McIntyre, CRD director for Salt Spring Island Electoral Area, said that the Tour des Iles (a summer event where tourists travel between islands on small vessels) has been highly successful, and there were requests to run a similar service for more than just one week out of the year.
“Going from the Fernwood Dock, which is a CRD dock on Salt Spring, to Galiano, a short route, is about seven minutes,” said McIntyre. “If you wanted to go to Salt Spring [from Galiano] via BC Ferries, it would be quite an all-day affair,” he added.
A potential model for the service, he said, could come from the private school boat service that takes children to Gulf Islands Secondary School, but the feasibility study will evaluate whether government, industry, or a combination would be the best solution. McIntyre said he hopes to have a completed feasibility study by the end of the spring.
Still in the early stages, the CRD is calling on proposals for a business plan that would identify funding opportunities and outline expected costs, regulatory and operational requirements, and provide a strategy for public involvement to ensure the service is communicated to residents and visitors.
A work plan prepared for the CRD by KPFF Consulting Engineers and Marine Transit Consulting Group mentions the need for sustained funding in order to operate a “viable long-term multiple-route passenger-only ferry service”. They point to the long trips between small, separated islands which are costly to operate and fewer opportunities to address commuter trips due to low populations on some of the islands.
This would present higher operating costs due to a smaller market and limited ability to continuously generate fares. Several water taxis already operate in the area, but none that provide the same type of ferry service over an area this large.
BC Ferries currently operates vehicle and passenger ferry service to the Gulf Islands from terminals in Swartz Bay, Crofton and Tsawwassen.