Increased traffic is putting pressure on the entire ferry system, BC Ferries representatives told the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting in Sechelt on June 6. But a lack of vessels means that Route 3 (Langdale) cannot expect a second ferry until 2024.
Peter Simpson, director of operational strategy, explained the constraints on the Queen of Coquitlam, the spare vessel in the fleet which is used as a replacement when other major vessels are out of service for annual maintenance.
“Each of them [the large ships] need between four and six weeks of maintenance service through the year,” said Simpson. From June to early September, when no maintenance work is scheduled, the Coquitlam is used on the Langdale run.
BC Ferries is scheduled to acquire a new ship in 2024, which will free up another ferry for use year-round on Route 3, probably the Queen of Oak Bay. Simpson also said that the Oak Bay and the Surrey, both built in 1981, are scheduled to be retired in 2030 and replaced with new ships.
David Hendry, director of strategic planning, reported that traffic was up five per cent on the major routes this spring and four per cent on Route 3. Overloads on Route 3 also increased from 23 per cent in 2017 to 30 per cent so far this year.
“We see Thursday emerging throughout the system as the new Friday,” commented Simpson.
Under the new ferry schedule launched this year, on time performance on Route 3 has improved, but it is still falling well short of BC Ferries stated goal of 90 per cent. While 89 per cent of sailings ran on time in March 2018 (up from 77 per cent in 2017), 84 per cent of sailings left on time in April (up from 70 per cent) and just 76 per cent in May (up from 59 per cent in 2017).
FAC Chair Diana Mumford expressed the frustration she hears from Coast residents, especially those trying to catch the ferry on weekends and during the summer. “When we’re doing an average of the performance it doesn’t address those days that are peak. And when over 50 per cent of landowners here in Sechelt are nonresident, they’re coming over in the summer.”
Simpson said there are “no easy answers,” adding that BC Ferries is also challenged to find qualified crew for extra sailings.