The MV Chelan, pictured here arriving in Sidney in 2018, is the only vessel capable of servicing the Sidney-Anacortes run. A new report finds a privately-run service feasible but subject to many obstacles. (Black Press Media file photo)

The MV Chelan, pictured here arriving in Sidney in 2018, is the only vessel capable of servicing the Sidney-Anacortes run. A new report finds a privately-run service feasible but subject to many obstacles. (Black Press Media file photo)

Private ferry service between Sidney and Anacortes feasible, according to new report

But private service would face obstacles, and not provide much benefit to state ferry bottom line

A new American report finds a privately-run automobile ferry between Vancouver Island and Washington State feasible while giving supporters of the state-run ferry system ammunition.

The Joint Transportation Committee of the Washington State legislature commissioned the study on two related issues. The first concerns the state of the vessel fleet capable of servicing the Sidney-Anacortes route.

The April 2020 retirement of the MV Elwha has left Washington State Ferries with one vessel — the MV Chelan, itself more than 50 years old — capable of servicing the route under the Safety of Life at Sea certification standards for vessels operating in international waters.

The second issue concerns the interest of private companies to service the route. While a bill designed to facilitate a private service failed to secure sufficient legislative support earlier in 2020, the Washington State legislature nonetheless commissioned a study into the feasibility of private service.

RELATED: Funding for Sidney-Washington ferry repairs still a question mark

RELATED: International ferry service to Sidney pushed back to late April

The study found a private service would be feasible from a legal perspective, but also rife with challenges without necessarily addressing the problems facing the existing state-run ferry service.

For one, a private service would likely have to sail under the flag of a country other than the United States because of the high costs of constructing new vessels and limited availability of vessels sailing under the American flag appropriate for this route, according to the report. Only vessels built and owned in the United States can ferry passengers between U.S. ports (the Sidney-Anacortes route also stops at Friday Harbour on San Juan Island).

But using a foreign-flagged vessel would come with several drawbacks, including higher staffing costs to meet pilot requirements, thereby leading to higher fares. Regardless of vessel type, a private service would also carry fewer vehicles.

The report also found the use of a foreign-flagged vessel under private ownership would be unlikely to service the San Juan Islands. San Juan County would experience a negative economic impact, losing 21 jobs from reduced visitor spending, and $2.3 million in business revenue, the report noted.

The use of a private service would also not significantly help Washington State Ferries’ (WSF) bottom-line.

“Discontinuing the Anacortes to Sidney service would likely have a modest financial impact to WSF over a 20-year period,” reads the report. “With only a portion of the vessel service hours dedicated to Sidney and the remaining service hours provide domestic service, privatization results in a greater net loss to WSF’s operating program.” Privatization would also not lower WSF’s fleet requirements to reliably maintain service levels.

Other factors may also come into play. A private service would likely require a new terminal in Anacortes or elsewhere in Washington State. Any changes in ferry service (including the elimination of a route) require approval by Washington State legislators following public input from affected ferry users and Washington State’s current lease of its Sidney terminal (on municipal-owned land) runs until 2031 following a 2o-year extension.

Ferries have operated between Sidney and Anacortes for nearly a century, first under private ownership, then by WSF since 1951.

Ferry service between Sidney and Anacortes has been suspended since March 2020 because of COVID-19.

For more news from Vancouver Island and beyond delivered daily into your inbox, please click here.


Do you have a story tip? Email: vnc.editorial@blackpress.ca.

Follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

wolfgang.depner@

peninsulanewsreview.com

FerryWashington State Ferries

Just Posted

Seiners fill the waters between Comox and Nanoose Bay during roe herring fishery. file photo, Pacific Wild
Quota debate heats up on the eve of Vancouver Island herring fishery

Industry and conservationists weigh in how much catch should be allowed as DFO decision coming soon

Greater Victoria is defying national and provincial employment trends as the unemployment rate in December dropped to 5.8 per cent. (Black Press Media File)
Dropping unemployment rate in Greater Victoria defies national and provincial picture

Broader trends such as high youth unemployment are solidifying

Metchosin Mayor John Ranns (Black Press Media file photo)
Charity’s plan to flip tax-exempt greenspace to development angers Metchosin mayor

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Victoria tight-lipped on land plans

Editorial: We’re on the right path to address homelessness

Housing first model can only help improve the situation

North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring has expressed his frustration with harassment of people who have made racist comments online about Cowichan Tribes in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in the First Nation. (Citizen file)
Island mayor calls for de-escalation as social media gets uglier in racism fight

“Racism is wrong. But so is this kind of reaction”:

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. find its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Laurie Arbuthnot, owner of Wild Coast Perfumery in Cowichan Bay, poses with some of her products. (Robert Barron/Citizen)
Opening Wild Coast Perfumery a dream come true for Cowichan Bay owner

Only business of its kind on the Island outside Victoria makes natural, plant-based perfumes

Patty Golumbia and Holly Mair, teacher-librarians at South Island Distance Education, have launched a Read Across Canada challenge for their students. (Courtesy of Holly Mair)
Victoria students gobble up books on virtual trek across Canada

Nearly 40 South Island Distance Education students are participating

The Kerry Park Islanders and Peninsula Panthers battle during a Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League game in November 2020. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)
Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League hasn’t given up on season

Games can’t resume until at least February, but league brass still hopeful

The pantomime ‘Snow White and the 5 Dwarfs’ has been cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Submitted)
Pantomime cancelled in Cowichan due to COVID restrictions

A partnership of the Cowichan Musical Society, the Shawnigan Players, and the Mercury Players.

Alan Davidson was sentenced to almost six years for abusing seven boys in the late 1970s and early 1990s. (Canadian Press file)
Full parole granted to former Mountie, sports coach convicted of sex abuse of boys

Alan Davidson convicted of abusing boys in B.C. and Saskatchewan in late ’70s, early ’90s

The first COVID-19 vaccine arrives in B.C. in temperature-controlled containers, Dec. 13, 2020. (B.C. government)
More vaccine arrives as B.C. struggles with remote COVID-19 cases

Long-term care homes remain focus for public health

The first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose in Canada is prepared at The Michener Institute in Toronto on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Doses of COVID-19 vaccine expected in 60 B.C. First Nations by next week

B.C. has allocated 25,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to First Nations for distribution by the end of February

Kamloops-South Thompson MLA Todd Stone questions the NDP government in the B.C. legislature, Feb. 25, 2020. (Hansard TV)
Todd Stone says he’s not running for B.C. Liberal leadership

Kamloops MLA was widely viewed as a front-runner

Most Read