Despite smooth sailing handling Duke Point ferry traffic through its Departure Bay terminal, B.C. Ferries has no plans to close the Nanaimo to Tsawwassen operation.
The terminal has been out of commission since Dec. 20 after the Coastal Inspiration crashed while docking, damaging the ferry’s bow doors and the terminal’s lower vehicle ramp.
Repair work is underway and plans are for a mid-April reopening.
Mark Stefanson, B.C. Ferries spokesman, said debate over closing Duke Point has surfaced before, but the terminal remains an integral part of its operation, particularly for the commercial vehicle service.
“Our staff in Nanaimo has done an outstanding job of being able to accommodate both routes operating out of Departure Bay for this period of time,” he said. “It’s a blessing this is happening in the winter time and the low point of our season. Once we start moving into the busy summer season, it’s our view there is no way both routes could operate out of Departure Bay without some major challenges.”
The ferry corporation reported a $23.1 million deficit in its third quarter of 2011-12, and Stefanson admits there will be cost-efficiency issues on the table over the next couple of years.
“In view of B.C. Ferries’s financial situation, I think having a discussion about it in the public domain is a good thing,” he said. “But we certainly need to look at realistic options. We don’t want to be returning to the major traffic congestion issues at Departure Bay we had every weekend in past summers.”
Louise Yako, president of the B.C. Trucking Association, said she hasn’t heard many complaints regarding the closure of Duke Point.
“It’s not because Duke Point isn’t important to the trucking industry, it’s because people realize it’s a situation that is totally uncontrollable and they have to make adjustments,” she said. “Complaining about it is not going to accomplish anything.”
If the situation were to continue, including a closure of Duke Point, Yako said the trucking industry would continue to adjust.
“The impetus of developing Duke Point was because of concerns in Nanaimo about the backup of traffic,” she said. “It’s not so much about us in this particular situation, as is what’s good for Nanaimo.”
As for closing Duke Point over the winter season, Stefanson said theoretically anything could be looked at.
“It’s not something we’ve studied at this point,” he said. “This is a good test case that we are able to operate in a short-term way without the use of Duke Point, but it is in the slowest period of the year. There is no question as we get closer to summer the pressure is going to grow from the commercial and passenger vehicles.”