– Foot ferry is viable: Mayor

By Walter Cordery, The Daily News

City ready and willing to help businesses with plans to run a Nanaimo-Vancouver service

Despite previous failed attempts to run a passenger-only ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver, Mayor John Ruttan believes it can be a viable run and says the city is willing to help potential operators establish another service.

Ruttan said that Pacific Coach Lines’ decision to eliminate its bus link between Duke Point and Vancouver International Airport due to a lack of ridership makes it the time to re-examine the idea of a passenger-only ferry service. A vessel that docks in Vancouver by the Seabus terminal would give passengers access to both downtown and the Vancouver airport via the SkyTrain’s Canada Line.

Ruttan is convinced the time is right for a new service. And there seems to be some interest in the business community as well, he said.

“We seem to get enquiries from potential operators all the time and we have made it a priority to establish another foot-ferry passenger service to downtown Vancouver,” said Ruttan.

The city has had preliminary discussions with Ihab Shaker, owner of Coastal Link Ferries, who runs a similar service in Howe Sound.

Shaker called the meeting he had with Nanaimo officials “interesting” but said that he cannot afford to be the lone investor in a Nanaimo-to-Vancouver passenger ferry service.

“I am told there is such a need for this service and if that’s the case, why won’t anybody share the financial risk with me?” Shaker asked.

Ruttan recently said the city is doing its utmost to attract an operator and may be willing to offer inducements to help make the renewal of a foot passenger service a reality.

“If there is a strong business proposal that we think is promising, we would certainly consider helping them in non-financial ways,” he said Tuesday. “We’ve talked to a number of different investor groups and we’ve also talked with some groups from China that have expressed interest. We remain optimistic.”

HarbourLynx was the last company that tried to operate a passenger-only ferry service. It shut down in February 2006 after three years in business.

Because of the ridership on the Royal Sealink Express, Ruttan said he found it difficult to believe nobody else, including B.C. Ferries, is willing to invest in a passenger-only service.

“I’m just amazed that it hasn’t been re-established. In 1992-93 Kvaerner Fjellstrand was on target for 250,000 riders for the year but they stopped after about 10 months with over 200,000 passengers,” said Ruttan.

Bill McKay was the operations manager at HarbourLynx, whose lone ferry was plagued by mechanical problems.

McKay said if a new service was “priced right” and had investors “with very deep pockets,” a downtown-to-downtown passenger service would be viable.

To establish the type of service McKay believes passengers want would cost a company and investors between $18 million and $20 million.

“I believe a company would have to run smaller boats and not the 300-passenger type we ran just because of the cost of the fuel,” said McKay. “They would also have to have two boats on the run offering more flexible hours than we were able to.”

WCordery@nanaimodailynews.com

FOOT FERRY HISTORY

February 1969, Pacific Hovercraft starts running from Nanaimo to Vancouver. Company goes bankrupt in 1971.

July 1992 to June 1993, the Norwegian company Kvaerner Fjellstrand operates Royal Sealink Express.

October 2003, HarbourLynx begins offering trips to downtown Vancouver. The company ultimately goes bankrupt.

October 2006, Victoria businessman Ed Life buys ferry, renames it Island Sealink. Technical, financial troubles cause Life to sell in 2007.

— daily news

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