Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nanaimo Fast Ferry Shaping Up?

File Photo: Nanaimo HarbourLynx Ferry
A story in todays Daily says that a group, 'Island Ferries' is coming closer to making the much anticipated fast ferry a reality.

According to Sasha Angus of the NEDC the group has given up on one source of funding and is now exploring other avenues. Angus describes securing financing  for the most part the last hurdle before advancing to the next step.

There is no doubt a downtown to downtown fast ferry would be a real game changer for Nanaimo. It could turn Nanaimo into a bedroom community for those who work in Vancouver but want to enjoy the many benefits of Nanaimo living, not the least of which is much cheaper housing. It should be a boost all around for Nanaimo and could be the catalyst to propel Nanaimo foward into whatever kind of community our leaders see us becoming.

Nanaimo has not had a downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver ferry service since the privately owned Harbourlynx went out of business in Feb. 2006. Old timers will remember when there used to be a downtown to downtown ferry service run by CP, which also carried cars and freight. It left from downtown beside the Gabriola Ferry terminal from the land the city now owns, known as the Wellcox property.

The language used in the Daily article could be a precursor to the Ferry company looking for financial support from the city of Nanaimo, who of course only has funds coming from the Nanaimo taxpayer. That support could come by way of tax exemptions (which the city seems to favour) or it could also include some form of direct cash input to help this service get over the hurdle of lack of funding.

I know it is still a little early to jump on this bandwagon, but without doubt this is likely the brightest star on Nanaimos' horizon, bar none!



  1. As someone who has done the commute, there are several people in Nanaimo who do this daily. It's a tax on people's financial and personal lives, and while it's a personal choice to work there/live here, the ferry corp has not made it easier by not discounting the island/mainland route for frequent travelers as they do smaller routes. At one point, I was informed it was because the ferry corp doesn't believe that people would make such a commute. Given that I've lived and breathed it, I can speak for the same people I saw on the 630am ferry departing and 5pm ferry returning when I say we do make this commute. A downtown-to-downtown ferry would make many people's lives easier, both for residents, potential new residents and visitors.

  2. For someone who is generally an astute observer of the local scene you appear to have swallowed this hogwash whole.

    First some facts: there have been not one, not two, but three attempts to make a foot passenger ferry work. All with the same rationale you trumpet above. And all failed.

    The last downtown service run by the CPR was on its own especially constructed rail car/truck ferry. Its priority was freight and departure times were very limited to suit trucks and rail cars. It was also a very slow boat, taking almost 3 hrs. for the run to downtown Vancouver.

    The last downtown service of any consequence ended when the CPR pulled out of its main passenger business, operating out of Cameron Island, and BC Ferries took over the Black Ball Line, operating out of Departure Bay. That unquestionably was the end of the Golden Age of foot passenger service.

    The current conjecture -- and that's all it is -- is little more than hype out of the local spin machine to get us prepared for another crack at public subsidies. But for many reasons any subsidies should be a total non-starter for local ratepayers.

    Statements such as this will be a real "game changer" are absurd fluff, as the past record clearly indicates. The important questions to be answered before any new service requiring a public subsidy is given consideration are:

    1. Precisely why did the three previous efforts fail? Note that neither the mayor nor NEDC nor any other booster is remotely interested in conducting a proper analysis. Insteaad, all we have is the former manager of the last failure and now city councillor Bill McKay hyping that the service was a success were it not the pesky problem of maintaining a boat. That's how nutty it gets.

    2. Even if a sound business case could be developed for a new kick at this cat (so to speak), just who is it that wants Nanaimo to become a "bedroom community?" Is that what we should aspire to? Another Langley, Surrey, Delta, whatever? Just what is it that such places have that make them attractive? Why it's congestion, endless suburbia and little sense of place -- the very things they are desperate to overcome. That's something to aspired to?

    Or would Nanaimo be an exception? Would high rises sprout downtown -- as opposed to suburban growth -- with a downtown ferry link? That's extremely doubtful and in any case the public has indicated a number of times that that's not the vision it supports for the downtown.

    3. If q foot passenger ferry makes sense why isn't BC Ferries keen to get one started? After all, the corporation at one time mused openly about the possibility and if anyone is to give it a go BC Ferries is the most obvious candidate. But the company wallows in debt and can't afford to experiment. And make no mistake: this would be a costly experiment.

    All that said, the bank that advances money for the proposed new operation is a bank that has money to burn. If a bank is willing to take on the risk, let it do so. Let's keep public money out of it.

    Finally, it's worth remembering that the out of touch Port Authority, which taxes all harbour users as much as it likes with impunity and runs an operation devoid of meaningful public accountability, already wasted hundreds of thousands of public dollars refitting the downtown docks for McKay's failed operation, something he doesn't choose to talk about. That same PA then decided more recently that the entire set of docks downtown was on its final legs and needed to be refurbished by selling out to a private operator for the next 30 years. Mercifully that plan went away -- at least for now.

    The lessons are unmistkably and painfully clear: keep public money -- especially ratepayer money -- out of such high-risk ventures. Leave them entirely to the private sector.


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