A pre-feasibility study for a passenger ferry from the West Shore to downtown Victoria has been submitted to BC Ferries.

The 201-page study, called the Westshore Express Passenger Ferry pre-feasibility study, was commissioned by BC Ferries last year and completed by SNC Lavalin and Steer consultants.  BC Ferries received the study on March 5 and is only determining the feasibility of a passenger ferry and a decision has not been made.

“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. We are at a 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,” BC Ferries said in a statement.

BC Ferries started considering a feasibility study in 2018 as officials in West Shore communities continued to discuss ways to ease traffic congestion on the highway. The company received the report in the first

Proposed Terminals 

The study looks at three possible locations:

Royal Bay: This terminal would be at an old quarry site, which is undeveloped but soon to be part of a large housing development. The study said the development would include parking for 250 vehicles, space for bus stops, taxi areas, passenger-drop off and a covered waiting area.

Esquimalt: This terminal would be in the outer harbour of Esquimalt at the Pacific Fleet Club building. This location was selected due to the potential availability of this building and also due to the fact that it is located outside the secure zone of Esquimalt Naval Base. However, the report also concludes there would be low ridership on a Royal Bay – Esquimalt route and there would be significant capital costs for a terminal due to the need for a breakwater. The study recommends that route not be pursued.

Ship Point: This would be the location of the downtown terminal. The study said the terminal will require two berths, one on either side of the existing wharf and a new shelter area.

Design

The Damen Fast Ferry 3209, a diesel-operated ferry, was selected as the design vessel for the study. The ferry is a high-speed passenger catamaran with a passenger capacity of 294 people. According to the study, the vessel can maintain the required crossing speed of 25 knots even in waves of over two metres.

Demand and cost for passengers

The demand analysis developed by Steer in the study was based on Capital Regional District (CRD) transportation model data. If ferry fares were equivalent to a bus ticket ($2.50), the study determines that if the ferry starts operating in 2021,  the Westshore ferry could be expected to serve approximately 3,100 daily passengers on its two routes, bringing in annual revenue of approximately $2.2 million (based on the 2018  Canadian dollar).

By 2038, the Westshore ferry could be expected to serve approximately 4,000 passengers per day with annual revenue of $3.4 million, the study states.

However, the study says that ferry fares at $2.50 would lead to a yearly loss of over $8 million. The study recommends a price of $5.75 per trip.

Cost for BC Ferries

The total cost estimate for the passenger ferry, which includes an Esquimalt terminal, would be $41,600,000. Without an Esquimalt terminal, the study estimates the cost to be $31,600,000.

The study says the largest operating costs would be for staff and fuel. Staff costs in the study were calculated assuming a staff of four people per vessel, with three crews for each of
the five vessels. For the fleet of five vessels, a total of 60 vessel crew would be required, at a total cost of approximately $7,050,000 per year.

Fuel consumption is estimated to be $3,850,600 per year, based on the design vessel consuming 700 litres per hour when travelling at 30 knots.

Conclusion

According to SNC-Lavalin and Steer, the “most advantageous option” is for:

  • The Esquimalt service is not built, and only Royal Bay to Ship Point service is considered
  • Only two ferries were purchased, operating at 30 min intervals
  • The ferries are permitted to operate at 10 knots in the Victoria outer harbour (an increase from the
    current speed limit of 7 knots)
  • The ferry operates a full 16 hour day of service
  • The ferry is staffed by only two people (subject to Transport Canada minimum crew requirement
    assessment)
  • A natural gas version of the fast-catamaran becomes available in the near future
  • Fare prices are set at the revenue-maximum figure of $5.75 per trip

Next steps 

SNC-Lavalin and Steer said if the project goes further, it recommends an investigation into financing and joint-funding options to involve organizations who will share the broader economic and social benefits and an investigation into minimum crew size for this type of vessel, and whether there are any advances in safety technology that would allow reduced crew numbers.

They also recommend further investigation into the design vessel to determine whether smaller vessels better matched to the expected ridership could achieve adequate and suitably-low weather-related downtime and whether natural gas propulsion for this type of vessel (either LNG or CNG) is likely to be commercially available in time for the project and suitable for the proposed service.

Other recommendations include a geotechnical investigation to assess conditions at the Royal Bay site and determine the bedrock levels, coastal modelling to assess the potential impacts to the sensitive sites near Royal Bay and an assessment of off-peak demand to complement the peak-period data currently available. This would require additional information to be collected, and would include a survey of potential ferry users.

Read the full study below:

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