Vancouver-to-Nanaimo passenger ferry possible for summer

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Walk-on passengers could be riding a direct Vancouver-to-Nanaimo ferry this summer provided needed investment funds come in for the venture, says an official for Island Ferry Services Ltd.

“I can’t tell you where we stand financially, but we have one more financial hurdle to cross,” David Marshall, company spokesman, said January 7.

He did not give a date when the service might launch, other than: “We are focused on the summer.”

If Island Ferry Services obtains financing it will bring two catamaran ferries to Nanaimo, he said. The 376-passenger vessels are being built in Singapore. They are expected to be completed in late May or early June, Marshall said.

Nanaimo council has talked about a foot-passenger service for years. Candidates in the provincial byelection in Nanaimo are supporting the idea.

Liberal Tony Harris is urging all levels of government to collaborate to help make a fast-ferry a reality. It would assist Nanaimo residents access services in Vancouver and link up to the Vancouver airport. A ferry would also allow people to live in more affordable Nanaimo and commute to work in Vancouver.

The NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson said all parties in the 2015 election supported the ferry and now the company needs infrastructure investment. While sitting as a federal MP in December, she called on the federal government to support the service.

Island Ferry Services has been working on its plan for several years. In 2013, a spokesman said a foot-passenger ferry service would have an excellent chance of success. But a 2014 launch didn’t happen because all the financing was not nailed down. The following year, the City of Nanaimo and the Nanaimo Port Authority sought interest from companies to run such a service. Island Ferry Services was chosen as the favoured proponent. The service was expected to start last year, but Marshall said in June that would not take place because there were still key approvals and agreements to finalize.

Most of that has now been done, leading to optimism for the 2019 year, he said.

The cost of the project, including past investments, is $90 million, Marshall said.

If the service goes ahead this year, the ferries, costing between $23 million and $24 million each, would go through trials in Asia and then be brought to Nanaimo for more trials at sea. This would clarify the timing of the crossing, expected to be between 68 and 69 minutes, Marshall said.

A one-way ticket would be about $31, with frequent users paying $24 or $25, he said.

Six round trips are planned per day, dropping to four round trips during the winter, he said.

Ian Marr, co-chief executive of the Nanaimo Port Authority, said terms of an offer to lease for up to 20 years have been agreed upon with the ferry company.

Improvements required at the Port of Nanaimo include installing a system to bring potable water to the pier, a sewage line to move material from the vessel, and an extension of electrical supply to the berth. A total of 105 workers would be hired.

Times Colonist