BC Ferries has received a detailed analysis of what a passenger-only ferry could look like from the West Shore to downtown Victoria.

As one of the fastest-growing regions in B.C., the West Shore has become increasingly hard to drive to and from due to traffic jams, prompting calls from some area mayors for a fix. Last year, Colwood Mayor Rob Martin said he felt the solution was in the waterway between Royal Bay and downtown Victoria.

As it turns out, he wasn't the only one.

In a lengthy 201-page “Pre-Feasibility Study” commissioned by BC Ferries last year, SNC Lavalin and Steer consultants provide the first snapshot of what’s referred to as the "Westshore Express Passenger Ferry."

BC Ferries says it's only in the preliminary stages of determining the feasibility of a passenger ferry service and has not made any decisions at this stage.

Proposed terminals

The report looks at three possible ferry terminals: Royal Bay, Esquimalt and Ship Point.

The proposed location for the Royal Bay terminal is an old undeveloped quarry site which rests next to Royal Bay’s large housing development site. The report proposes parking for 250 vehicles, space for bus stops and taxis, as well as a covered waiting area. 

A terminal in the outer harbour of Esquimalt at the Pacific Fleet Club building is discussed although it is later recommended this route not be pursued because of the potential for low ridership and the significant cost of the terminal due to the need for a breakwater. 

The downtown terminal is proposed to be built at Ship Point. The report calls for two berths on either side of Ship Point’s existing wharf. It also calls for a new shelter area. 

west shore ferry

Vessel design

The report discusses a high-speed passenger catamaran ferry called the Damen Fast Ferry 3209.

It operates on diesel fuel, has a capacity of 294 passengers and can maintain a speed of 25 knots even when travelling in significant waves of more than 2-metres. 

Cost for passengers

The report provides several cost breakdowns and options. In the best case, ferry fares are priced to be equivalent to a bus ticket at $2.50.

This option would be the least expensive for passengers, however, the report shows that if BC Ferries were to pursue it would lead to yearly losses of over $8 million. As a result, it’s recommended BC Ferries raise the fare price to $5.75. 

Cost for BC Ferries

The total cost estimate, which includes a route to Esquimalt as well as a terminal there, is $41,600,000.

Without the Esquimalt terminal and route the total cost estimate is $31,600,000. 

The study estimates that the largest operational cost would be for staff and fuel. It pegs the cost for a staff of four people per vessel, with three crews for five vessels, at approximately $7 million a year. 

Best case scenario 

In addition to charging $5.75 per passenger,the report suggests operating the vessels with two staff members, rather than four.

The report also suggests using two vessels rather than four for the Royal Bay to Ship Point route.

Instead of running them every 20 minutes, it suggest running them every 40 minutes during peak periods of four hours in the morning and four hours in the afternoon/evening. 

The report also suggests using LNG. Currently an LNG option is not available for the 3209 vessel outlined in the report. It says the cost of LNG is approximately half the cost of diesel. 

Next steps

BC Ferries says it received the report in the first week of March. Since then it has shared it with stakeholders and has had a meeting to discuss the findings. 

Once its stakeholders have reviewed the study, BC Ferries says the group will determine if the concept is worthy of further study. 

It also says it has shared the report with the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and hopes it will be helpful in finding transportation solutions for the South Island. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure recently announced plans for a long-term southern Vancouver Island Transportation Strategy. 

Read the full report below: