A preliminary study on the feasibility of running a passenger-only ferry between Gibsons and the Lower Mainland suggests anyone operating the service would need to carry at least 40 passengers a trip for a minimum fare of $20 to be in the black.
BC Ferries currently charges $13.70 (return) for an adult passenger on the Langdale route.
The study, by Evergreen Consulting of Roberts Creek, was commissioned by the Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization (SCREDO) for the Town of Gibsons, which is trying to get provincial Transportation Minister Claire Trevena to support a subsidized service.
The model would be similar to the Gambier/Keats Island route that BC Ferries runs in partnership with a private company.
The study includes a cost-revenue analysis for a single daily round-trip between either Gibsons or Langdale on the Sunshine Coast side and Horseshoe Bay, two round-trips to Horseshoe Bay, a single round-trip to downtown Vancouver and two round-trips on that route.
The projected costs run from just over $500,000 per year for the single round-trip to Horseshoe Bay to around $732,000 to operate two round-trips a day to downtown Vancouver.
The study’s authors said they arrived at those figures by extrapolating from existing data and information gathered from water taxi operators, BC Ferries, the Gibsons Landing Harbour Authority and others.
However, the only company with recent experience attempting to run such a service as a for-profit venture, Pacific Ferries, chose not to provide information for the study.
Earlier this summer Pacific Ferries owner Ihab Shaker offered to operate a subsidized service, in partnership with local governments and groups like Sunshine Coast Tourism, as “a pilot project for six months to help produce more accurate results for the study and provide a real and precise business case.”
That idea did not go forward.
The SCREDO study also relied heavily on a survey, “aimed at gathering data and opinions from current Sunshine Coast commuters” that captured responses from around 40 people, which the authors said represents about five per cent of the known commuter travellers.
Just over 95 per cent of the respondents said they would consider using a passenger ferry service, but the survey also found most of them are not willing to pay more than $20 per trip.
“Our preliminary feasibility analysis point to the strong requirement, especially at the beginning of service, for some kind of subsidy,” the study says.
It also concludes that a passenger ferry can be viable and “would provide many other socio-economic benefits to the Coast outside just transportation.”
SCREDO puts the cost of the study at just over $4,900, but its authors said in the conclusion that “a deeper and more extensive study” will likely be needed to give a clearer picture of the demand for the service and the necessary subsidy.