Gabriola chamber floats water taxi

With the final announcement of B.C. Ferries’ route cuts expected in the next two weeks, the Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce is spearheading a movement for water taxi service.

Ken Gurr, chamber president, recently approached the Regional District of Nanaimo board seeking to revise the terms of use for Descanso Bay Wharf to accommodate a new water taxi service. The emergency evacuation wharf was created as a result of a 2003 referendum.

At the March 11 committee of the whole meeting, Gurr told regional district directors that the proposal is to examine the idea of adding water taxis as an additional use to the Descanso Bay dock. He estimated that ambulances come down one to three times a month for night-time emergency evacuation.

“One of the things we’re looking at is more efficient use, addressing what we’re seeing as a demand and an issue to try and get another access point to and from Nanaimo,” said Gurr.

The aim wouldn’t be to start a water taxi service, but rather establish economic conditions to allow for private companies to create water taxi service. Gurr said no one on the chamber board has a vested interest in water taxis.

Howard Houle, Gabriola Island regional district director, said the use of the dock was set by referendum and he would not change the use without community consultation and another referendum. There are two other wharves available – Green Wharf and Degnen Bay – and there are some rezoning requirements.

“What it says is you have to have a parking lot and a waiting room,” Houle said. “They may be able to rent a parking lot close by which is now used by people using the B.C. Ferries, but I see no place for a waiting room.”

The original announcement of cuts to the Gabriola-Nanaimo Harbour route called for elimination of late-night and early-morning sailings, but Houle said local government has been meeting with B.C. Ferries and the final route reductions won’t be hurting islanders as much.

But even if midday routes are eliminated, Gurr told the News Bulletin there is still an opportunity for taxi service.

The Gabriola Island Chamber of Commerce president said Descanso Bay would be the best fit and is pedestrian friendly. The other two wharves aren’t practical, he added.

“[It’s] where our island population centre is, where the village is, our whole connectivity to Nanaimo,” Gurr said. “Descanso Bay is the only one that makes sense because the other nearest one is basically down a very steep, narrow, gravel access road that services Mudge Island primarily and there’s no parking available – you’d have to hitchhike or get transportation in other ways.”

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