(Damen Fast Ferry DFFe 3209 rendering / Damen webiste)

A new high-speed catamaran passenger ferry could soon be connecting the West Shore with downtown Victoria, according to a detailed study conducted on behalf of BC Ferries.

The 201 page study, Westshore Express Passenger Ferry pre-feasibility study, is currently being reviewed by BC Ferries and was conducted by SNC-Lavalin and Steer. It thoroughly explores possible terminal locations, vessel designs, passenger cost, crew requirements, project costs, and more.

“The pre-feasibility study we commissioned is a high-level assessment of the proposed ferry service and infrastructure that would be required to support it,” said BC Ferries in a statement.

“We are at the very preliminary stage at the moment and will be engaging in discussions with a variety of stakeholders before any decision is made on offering such a service.”

See also: Colwood Mayor pitches seabus as alternative transportation to alleviate vehicle congestion

3 potential ferry terminals

The study offers three potential ferry terminal sites, one in Royal Bay, one at Ship Point, and lastly one in Esquimalt.

The first terminal would be located in Royal Bay on property that is part of a large housing development. The area would have room for 250 vehicles to park, space for bus stops and taxis, and a passenger drop-off and covered waiting area.

Victoria’s terminal would be located at Ship Point, a timber wharf that is undergoing repairs right in the inner harbour. The terminal would require the construction of two new berths, one on either side of the timber wharf, to service the ferries. Elements of the wharf would also have to replaced with concrete floats, and a new shelter area would have to built on or near the wharf deck.

Lastly, the terminal in Esquimalt would be located in the outer harbour Pacific Fleet Club building. The area was chosen because it sits outside of the Esquimalt Naval Base’s secure zone and could potentially make use of nearby buildings and real estate. However, the study also advises against creating this route, as a lower predicted ridership from the area would not offset the high capital costs of constructing a terminal.

(Proposed ferry routes / SNC-Lavalin)

Ferry design

The express passenger ferry line would make use of 5 Damen 3209 vessels, which are “high-speed” catamarans with a standard design and hull of marine grade aluminum alloy.

The vessels have a passenger capacity of 294 people and can maintain a desired crossing speed of 25 knots, even in waves of up to 2.5 metres tall.

(Damen Fast Ferry DFFe 3209 rendering / SNC-Lavalin)

Passenger fares and use

The study found that, based on CRD transportation model data, approximately 3,100 commuters would use the ferry route per day, assuming fares were the equivalent of a current bus ticket, $2.50.  

Annual revenue at these predictions would bring in $2.2 million, and by 2038 it could make $3.4 million yearly with approximately 4,000 passengers a day.

While a seabus operating at BC Transit bus rates is best for commuters, the study found that this rate would lead to a loss of more than $8 million a year. The study recommends setting fare prices at $5.75 per trip.

Capital costs for BC Ferries

The combined estimate of capital costs for the construction of all three terminals, purchasing vessels, and allowing for a 30% cost contingency rings in at $41.6 million, a heft bill for BC Ferries.

If you remove the costs for the Esquimalt terminal, the estimated cost shrinks down to $31.6 million, with $27.9 needed for the Royal Bay development and $3.7 required for Victoria’s Ship Point terminal.

After capital, the study estimates that the largest operational cost to the ferry route would be staff and fuel. If there were four staff members per vessel, and three crews for each of the five vessels, staffing cost would be roughly $7 million per year.

Meanwhile, the cost for diesel fuel (at $0.95 per litre) would amount to roughly $3.2 million per year.

Recommendations

Initial assessment of the base outline predicts initial yearly losses of over $8 million, or roughly $240 million over 40 years.

In the study’s ideal model, several significant changes would be made to drop the 40 year cost to $31 million, and an initial cash positivity of $170,000 a year.

The key recommendations are:

  • Eliminating the Esquimalt terminal and route.
  • Reducing ship staffing to just two crew per vessel rather than four.
  • Reducing the number vessels to two and sailing frequency between Royal Bay amd Ship Point to every 40 minutes rather than every 20 minutes.
  • Reducing service hours to just the peak periods transit  (4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the afternoon/evening)
  • Using an alternative fuel. While no Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) version of the 3209 vessel currently exists, Damen estimates that this may be available in the future for an additional cost per vessel. The study found the cost of LNG is approximately half that of diesel.
  • Raising the fare price tp $5.75, though the study notes that this increased fare would result in a dramatic dip in ridership.
  • Increasing ferry speed to reduce the trip time, allowing two ferries to run at 30 minute intervals.

Moving forward

Should the project move forward, SNC-Lavalin and Steer recommend multiple next steps.

First and foremost, BC Ferries could explore financing and joint-funding options that involve organizations that will benefit economically and socially from the ferry route.

Secondly, research could be done into safety technology and the minimum crew size required for this type of vessel, and an investigation could be started on potential safety technology.

Additionally, a geotechnical investigation must be done to assess the conditions of the Royal Bay terminal site to determine the bedrock levels.

While the study provides even more recommendations, the last critical step would be conducting an assessment of off-peak demand data and a survey of potential ferry users.

BC Ferries received the study in early March and the review process is still in its early stages. No decision is expected to be made for quite some time.

The full study can be read online here.

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