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ONLINE SPECIAL: B.C. Ferries’ new drop trailer service not sitting well with transport companies

DELTA, B.C. -- A Delta, B.C. company that offers a drop trailer service linking Vancouver Island with the main...

This vessel, operated by Seaspan Coastal, now faces competition from Crown Corporation B.C. Ferries.
This vessel, operated by Seaspan Coastal, now faces competition from Crown Corporation B.C. Ferries.

DELTA, B.C. — A Delta, B.C. company that offers a drop trailer service linking Vancouver Island with the mainland is not impressed that B.C. Ferries is launching a competing service.


B.C. Ferries has initiated a pilot project providing a drop-off service for commercial truck trailers for transport between Vancouver Island and the Mainland.


B.C. Ferry Services (BCFS) reports that it is allowing trailer drop-offs for one select customer, for this experimental service that is operating between the Tsawwassen ferry terminal on the Mainland, and Duke Point, south of Nanaimo. The trailers are being loaded by B.C. Ferries’ dock workers for subsequent pick-up by the transport company on the opposite side of the ferry route. BCFS indicates that the program, which began about two weeks ago, is still in the experimental stages.


“We’re basically just testing right now, to work out any bugs that might be in our system,” said B.C. Ferry spokesperson, Deborah Marshall. “Our previous operation is to have roll-on/roll-off live traffic with commercial vehicles. But what we want to do, is to offer more flexible options for our customers, that they will be able to come down and drop off their trailer and then we will take it over to the other side for them.”


How long the pilot project will last, Marshall was unable to confirm, but she did say the former crown corporation is planning to expand the service.


“We do expect to fully launch the service in the near future,” she says. “I just don’t have a date, yet.”


The ferry corporation has leased tractors to haul the commercial trailers aboard its regularly-scheduled vessels, which serves both a commercial and a non-commercial clientele. If the plan is a success, B.C. Ferries indicates it may consider purchasing its own tractors for this roll-on/roll-off service. However, the BCFS pilot project is not sitting well with Seaspan Coastal, which already provides a similar service exclusively to the transport industry.


“We have heard rumours of BCFS entering this business for years, so their announcement came as no surprise,” said Adrian Samuel, sales and marketing manager for Seaspan Coastal Intermodal, which operates its own drop trailer ferry service for commercial trailers. “We have linked the (Vancouver) Island and Mainland with a ferry service as a private, non-subsidized company since 1903, and have been actively engaged in the drop trailer service since the 60s. There are other private companies providing drop trailer service as well. None of us have the benefit of the many government subsidies that BCFS enjoy.”


A member of the Washington Marine Group of Companies, Seaspan provides daily scheduled sailings between its three terminals: Tilbury in Delta, and Nanaimo and Swartz Bay on Vancouver Island. The intermodal company operates four roll-on/roll-off, self-propelled ferries, an articulating tug and barge unit, and a towed barge. Seaspan also delivers trailers and containers for trucking and distribution customers, including rail cars for the Southern Railway of Vancouver Island. In that respect, Samuel doubts that BCFS can provide the same level of service.


“One question we have is, how BCFS plans to manage handling drop trailers on the same vessels while carrying cars, trucks and passengers? Ferry waits can already be pretty long in the high summer season. So, how do they plan to look after their primary customer – the traveling public – with their expected increase in commercial traffic, and while they’re shuttling trailers off and on their vessels?”


If B.C. Ferries is successful with this new venture, Samuel noted that additional truck traffic on Highway 17, the main artery to the ferry terminal will undoubtedly increase through the communities of Ladner and Tsawwassen. And while BCFS has denied that its three major runs from the Mainland to Vancouver Island benefit from provincial government subsidies, Samuels continues to insist that it does.


“Traditionally we have viewed our service as being complementary to the service offered by B.C. Ferries,” says Samuels. “Recently they have become an aggressive competitor by targeting the commercial customer with deep rate discounts. We welcome healthy competition and we have had it for years, but we think the playing field should be level – not tilted in BCFS’ direction by massive and ongoing subsidies that allow them to cut rates to one market segment, because the paying public or government will subsidize that segment.”

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