Friday, September 28, 2007

BC Ferries

Living on Vancouver Island, the ferry system is one that matters to me a lot. Consequently I do spent a lot of time thinking about the ferry system.

Issue 1 - Privitization

I am sick and tired of people saying that BC Ferries has been privatized. All that happened is that the government of BC changed the corporate governance structure.

BC Ferries had long suffered from being too closely controlled by the people in the rockpile. The change in governance means that the politicians in Victoria can not use the ferry system for political purposes. BC Ferries is still 100% government owned, it is still a crown corporation, but the people looking to oppose the government simply have decided that this means the business is now private.

I personally would like to see the BC Ferry system broken up and sold to private operators. I think this would mean would see a competitive service. We would see more innovation if there was some head to head competition. I understand that on small routes this is not likely to be possible, but on the main route from the mainland to the island, this should work well.

Issue 2 - The new ferries

The three super C Class ferries are getting closer to coming to BC. The decision to go with Flensburger has been a very good decision. The ferries are going to cost less than planned and be in service earlier than planned.

What I find really interesting is that BC Ferries will get these three ferries built for the same amount that the 2 Spirit Class ferries were built for in the early to mid 1990s. The new ferries are comparable to the S class ones in size. 14 years of cost of living increases makes the 1993 price for the Spirit of British Columbia in 2007 dollars close to $220 000 000.

Meanwhile the three new ferries will only cost about $300 000 000. BC Ferries did the right thing and should be congratulated for very good planning.

Issue 3 - Fast Ferries

The three Pacificat Fastferries are still sitting in mothballs here in BC. The Washington Marine Group built them under contract for BC Ferries for more than the three new ferries. They then bought them back from BC for only about $20 000 000. Meanwhile there has been an explosion of similar ships being used elsewhere.

There is a company in Hawai'i that is trying to operate a new service from Oahu to Maui and Kauai. The Alakai is a fast cat very similar to the Pacifcats. The ship was built by Austal, who I think were interesting building the BC ferries at the time, but I am not sure now.

Interesting is how many of the fast cats are being built and put into use around the world. So what will happen to the BC ones? How long will they sit there and not be used? Why has no one stepped forward to buy them, or at least lease them, for some route in the world? Are they that flawed???

Issue 4 - New Routes

It is time for BC Ferries to consider looking at several new routes. Here are my suggestions:
  • Tsawwassen to Comox - there are now about 60 000 people in the Comox valley alone. This link would be good for trucking and access to the upper end of the island. This is a 140 km trip and should take about 3 hours and 40 minutes. A ship could leave Tsawwassen at 6 am and then leave Comox at 10 am, Tsawwassen again at 2 pm and then leave Comox at 6 pm arriving at 9:40 pm in Tsawwassen. One could charge $20 per person and $70 per car and it should pay for itself.
  • Langdale to Duke Point - I am not sure that there is the demand for this service, by the cost to try it is low because the facilities are there on both ends. As it stands, anyone on the Sunshine Coast has to take two ferries to get to the island and vice versa of course.
  • Lund to Cortes - Not sure that there is the need for this one, but it would add an interesting new way to hop onto Vancouver Island. It also means Cortes residents could get to Powell River more easily. I would put a new dock on the south east end of Cortes and then pave the road over to Whaletown.
  • Saltery Bay to Duke Point - this would improve the connectivity of Powell River, but I suspect not really needed.
  • Quadra Island to Read Island - Read Island has no service at the moment and the resident population is very low, but provision of the service should change that and I am sure people would object to that.
  • BC Ferries should consider operating services to the US - a Swartz Bay to Anacortes run and something from Victoria to the Olympic Peninsula. Though these services should be on a for profit basis only.
  • North Coast New Routes - there should be a service running to Hartley Bay and to Kitkatla - One could run one from Prince Rupert to Porcher Island, Kitikatla, Hartley Bay and then Kitimat. A second route would run north to Laxwallams and then Kincolith. If there was the demand, one could continue to Stewart.

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