Based on the first three months of service, two-ship service is making a difference for travellers on the Gabriola Island-Nanaimo route.
The Island Gwawis and Island Kwigwis vessels began shuttling passengers to and from Descanso Bay and Nanaimo Harbour terminals in April. According to a B.C. Ferries news release Thursday, July 14, on-time performance was at 89 per cent this past June compared to 53 per cent in June 2021. More travellers with vehicles took the route, with 38,444 vehicle trips in June compared to 33,791 the year previous.
The amount of overloaded sailings (where at least one car is left behind) decreased from 20 per cent to 11 per cent, and 24 per cent fewer vehicles were being left behind. Total sailings increased 62 per cent, from 858 to 1,389, while the number of delayed sailings decreased 61 per cent, from 407 to 158.
Steven Earle, Gabriola Island Ferry Advisory Committee chairperson, said he is hearing positive feedback from people. Wait times are shorter, even in summer tourist season, he said.
“I was down there this morning at 10 a.m. and on a typical day [last summer], there would have been long lines up on Taylor Bay Road and people getting angry with each other because they were doing the wrong things,” said Earle. “You might have to wait two whole ferries to get on, but today, there was one ferry that went while I was there, there might have been two or three cars left behind. The next one, I think everybody got on.”
Sailings were cancelled June 25 due to staffing issues, however, Earle said that problem exists on all B.C. Ferries routes. In terms of improvements, he noted a ramp leading up to an upper car deck is “a little bit narrower,” but passengers are becoming acclimatized. He would like to see the vessels upgraded to electric.
“They’re smaller, but they’re deeper and higher and heavier than the Quinsam was, and they use more fuel … it’s unfortunate that this design of ferry uses more fuel than the old one and I can’t wait until they are able to build the infrastructure to make them go all electric,” said Earle. “It’s expensive, but it’s something that needs to be done.”
In an e-mail, B.C. Ferries noted water taxi service was offered during the June 25 cancellations and said it tries to give customers as much notice as possible. Since January, 850 employees have been hired and the ferry company continues to recruit “key shipboard personnel (engineers/deck officers),” even offering employee incentives for referrals.
B.C. Ferries is seeing above average absenteeism, which has jumped to 11 per cent from five per cent pre-pandemic. An attendance management program has been restarted after a pandemic-caused suspension, it said, to offer support and guidance to workers in need.
As for plans for electrifying vessels, B.C. Ferries is projecting four ships on two routes to be fully converted by March 2025, with the rest of the fleet following suit.