Safer queue lines and other terminal upgrades are in the works for B.C. Ferries’ terminals on the Gabriola Island route.
The ferry corporation will reveal proposals to improve service and facilities for its Nanaimo-to-Gabriola route at two public drop-in information sessions next week.
“We’ve had a few meetings, internally, with our staff working group and we’ve also met with our ferry advisory committee for that route and began the process to create a new long-term plan with them,” said Brian Green, B.C. Ferries terminal development manager. “That started, we’re trying to identify some key issues and opportunities from their perspective, from our customer perspective as well as our internal staff perspective.”
Key issues for the Gabriola terminal at Descanso Bay include unsafe ferry traffic queuing lines and a lack of a vehicle holding compound, which creates potentially unsafe situations that include drivers doing U-turns to join the back of the queue and occasional queue jumping.
The Nanaimo terminal has a holding compound, but it frequently fills up, Green said, forcing vehicle lines out onto Front Street.
“We’re seeing increasing growth, year on year … and we’re also forecasting growth on the route in the future, so we’re trying to accommodate more vehicles, but we’re also trying to accommodate changing travel patterns,” Green said.
Rising foot passenger numbers mean public transit pick-up and drop-off areas must be improved in Nanaimo.
“On the Gabriola side there’s a recently launched community bus and there isn’t a real pick-up and drop-off area for the community bus to go down to terminal and pick up in a safe way,” Green said. “The bus actually just drives down to the terminal and does a U-turn – a bit of a three-point turn – on the highway, which is not that safe.”
Upgrades are also needed to Gabriola terminal bicycle racks and better terminal approaches for bicycles and foot passengers.
“We’re trying to look at the next 20 to 25 years, acknowledging, though, that there will be projects that come out of this plan that can be done in the short term … In the past, sometimes we haven’t had these long-term plans, so sometimes we’ve put in waiting rooms in locations where we might have put them in other places if we had a long-term master plan for that site,” Green said.
One change being scrutinized for the Nanaimo terminal is a new loading pier. When it is changed, B.C. Ferries hopes to eliminate the sharp curve in the structure to provide safer loading for large vehicles.
The process is also underway to determine if the MV Quinsam, which currently serves the Nanaimo-Gabriola route and can load 63 vehicles, but will be retired sometime in the mid 2020s, should be replaced with a single 100-vehicle-capacity vessel or two smaller 47-vehicle-capacity craft. The outcome of that process should be known sometime in the next few months.
The Gabriola Advisory Committee’s priorities align with those of B.C. Ferries.
“Our priorities are to improve the very unsafe ferry lineup situation on Gabriola,” Steven Earle, committee chairman, said in an e-mail.
The committee’s other priorities include increased safety and space for pedestrians and cyclists.
“Why we are going to the public next week, is to hear from our customers, hear from our key stakeholders, like B.C. Transit, the City of Nanaimo, Islands Trust and hear from them as to what they see needs improving and why,” Green said.
The first of the two information meetings will be held at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre in Nanaimo on Tuesday, May 15, 4-7 p.m. The second meeting will be hosted at the Gabriola Island Arts Council Hall, 476 South Rd., Gabriola Island, Wednesday, May 16, 3-6 p.m.