Slower but sure

by Julia Kuzeljevich

VANCOUVER, B.C. – Trucks making the run to Vancouver Island from B.C.’s Lower Mainland will again be departing from Horseshoe Bay now that BC Ferries has decided to return C-Class conventional ferry service to the Nanaimo-bound route.

The change, effective until the end of the year, begins Feb. 1.

“The bottom line is this is good news,” says Paul Landry, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA). “Now we’re in the process of trying to figure out what services will be available and what the implications will be for other parts of the system. We want to make sure they haven’t borrowed from Peter to pay Paul.”

BC Ferries had dedicated the Horseshoe Bay terminal to its new PacifiCat fast ferry service that can’t accommodate trucks. Commercial traffic heading to Vancouver Island was rerouted to the Tsawwassen-Duke Point run as of Jan. 4, and commercial drivers were faced with having to reserve ferry space to get across. Otherwise, they sat and waited as long as three sailings – as many as six hours – for spots on the route that already added as much as 57 km to their journeys, through Vancouver’s downtown core.

Congestion issues had simply been transplanted. And to exacerbate the problems, commuter traffic was thrown into disarray when the new fast ferries faced a series of mechanical problems.

Just a week after the official shift in ships, Gordon Wilson, B.C.’s minister responsible for ferries, ordered the service to fix problems at Horseshoe Bay. He went so far, on Jan. 13, as to order an official report.

“If that means reinstating a conventional vessel and moving one of the FastCats off, then that’s what it means,” the minster said. “We absolutely have to provide service to the customer. The customer comes first. This is an extension of our highway.”

The fast ferries will now be phased in more gradually, said BC Ferries president Bob Lingwood.

With the reintroduction of the conventional ferry, truckers will again enjoy shorter travel times. About 16 per cent of the traffic traveling B.C.’s lower mainland is commercial in nature. And ferry service from Horseshoe Bay has historically carried 30 per cent of the truck traffic between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland.

According to statistics from B.C. Ferries, in fiscal 1999 it carried 32,809 commercial vehicles out of Horseshoe Bay, and 78,040 from Tsawwassen. Another 39,106 commercial vehicles were moved through Duke Point, and 19,036 came through Nanaimo.

The rerouting of traffic would have increased the volume of trucks at the Tsawwassen terminal by 40 per cent, taking the congested traffic away from West Vancouver and, essentially, transplanting it to the Delta region, the BCTA says.

B.C. Ferries blocked spots on deck for the commercial vehicles, but ferry space was just filling up too fast to accommodate everyone.

“The thing is, when you load in North Vancouver and go to Tsawwassen, it adds a lot of time. Our biggest problem is loading in North Vancouver and going all the way to Tsawwassen,” says Lawrence Winship, who dispatches for Cobra Trucking, which has 21 trucks hauling lumber from Vancouver Island to the mainland.

“You had to make a reservation two to three days ahead, and it’s added cost to the truckers, let alone the added fuel going through Vancouver, Richmond and Delta,” he says. “Before, we never had to make reservations. The wait is an average two sailings to get a place.

“We’ve had trucks waiting on a 10:45 p.m. run and they don’t get on until seven the next morning,” says Winship.

The C-class, conventional ferry should eliminate much of these waits. It carries more passengers with greater reliability than the fast ferry, and BC Ferries is expected to save $5 million a year by using the slower vessel, BC Ferries’ Lingwood said in a news release.

“The PacifiCats are new technology, and our experience to date shows we need to give them more time to be adequately phased in.”

Even before the PacifiCats took over the Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route, as of early January, several breakdowns meant canceled sailings and traffic backlogs for commuters.

“We’ve had a few mechanical problems, like logs that got sucked in,” says Deborah Dykes, communications coordinator for BC Ferries. n

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