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Planning under way for Gibsons-Vancouver passenger-only electric ferry

Public consultation underway, open house planned for 2023
Greenline Marine Inc. Founder and CEO Callum Campbell.

A Victoria-based company is conducting feasibility planning for foot passenger ferry service between Gibsons and Vancouver using electric vessels. 

“For all the folks who are ready to go another way, for all the folks who walk on the car ferry right now, or drive but they don’t really need to drive. The point would be to give them a much faster and cheaper way to get around,” said Greenline Marine Inc. Founder and CEO Callum Campbell, who is also the chair of the Canadian Ferry Association and former director of Inland Ferries. 

Campbell said he resigned from his position with the Ministry of Transportation to start the company, which launched this year. “I think system change is hard and I think sometimes it’s easier when that comes from outside," he said. 

Proximity to Vancouver, potential time savings and a strong commuting base are the primary reasons Gibsons and Bowen Island are first on his list as potential communities.

“I also know there are existing challenges right now with capacity issues on the existing ferry,” said Callum.

Two electric ferries with 150-passenger capacity would be used to service routes between Gibsons and Vancouver and Bowen Island and Vancouver, with a berth in close proximity to the Canada Line SkyTrain or another form of active transportation so users can “plug into” the existing transit system, said Callum.

A trip from the Government Wharf in Gibsons to such a location would take 65 minutes.

It’s still early days for the company, which has yet to raise capital and would need “tens of millions of dollars” to fund the operation, including the purchase of two vessels. “Marine infrastructure is very expensive and funders are going to have a lot of questions about that so we’re doing the groundwork right now to answer those questions,” said Callum.

Callum said the company will be targeting government infrastructure funding and “merit-based green funding” to subsidize the service and keep ticket prices affordable. 

Feasibility planning is under way until spring 2023 and will include ridership studies and community engagement. Open houses are planned for the new year and the company is expected to engage Gibsons councillors. It’s also launched a survey on its website. 

Gibsons mayor Silas White told Coast Reporter the Town has communicated with Greenline and that “this is definitely a project that will be beneficial to our residents should it be successful.”

He said the Town has supported a passenger ferry for at least five years, “and has worked with the Harbour Authority to find dock space for such a service in the past.”

Another company, Pacific Ferries, launched in 2016 but was forced to suspend operations in 2017 because of challenges securing permission to use the Coal Harbour Public Dock. 

In 2018, a passenger ferry feasibility study found 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.

The study by Evergreen Consulting of Roberts Creek was commissioned by the Sunshine Coast Regional Economic Development Organization (SCREDO) for the Town of Gibsons as it tried to get support from the Ministry of Transportation for subsidized service.

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,” but the idea did not move ahead. 

Of that study, Callum said, the assessment “looks like a good start, but you need to go further to address the questions of funders and decision makers. We are working to produce data that answers those questions.“

Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee Chair Diana Mumford told Coast Reporter while there is “always an appetite for such a service… A passenger only service however will not completely solve the overloads and lack of on-time performance on route 3.”

BC Ferries Corporate Communications Manager Astrid Chang said the company is aware of the feasibility planning. “This is a different type of service from the vehicle and passenger service we offer to Horseshoe Bay and would complement service to the area,” she said. “We wish them success in their endeavours.”

Last week private company Vancouver Island Ferry Company announced it would be providing passenger-only service between Nanaimo and Vancouver. 

- With files from Sean Eckford