A company planning a fast ferry between Nanaimo and Vancouver promises the service will start next summer.
The new Vancouver Island Ferry Company held a launch event Wednesday, Nov. 9, at the Port of Nanaimo.
“This is the stuff ferry tales are made of,” joked Rupesh Amin, CEO of Conqora Capital Partners, the company’s financial backers.
The foot-passenger-only ferry service is slated to start in summer 2023 with terminals at the Port of Nanaimo’s cruise ship terminal and the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre in downtown Vancouver.
Two high-speed catamaran vessels are being built by the Netherland’s Damen Group and will each hold more than 350 passengers in three classes of seating, referred to as business, premium and comfort class. Fares haven’t been announced, but the company says the price points will be “family friendly.”
Sailing schedules are also yet to be determined, but there will be multiple sailings per day and the crossing time will be approximately 70 minutes. Alastair Caddick, the company’s CEO, said sailings will be early enough for commuters and late enough to come home after sporting events or concerts, for example.
Seats will be fully reservable, but there will also be availability for walk-on passengers. Caddick said the company can promise a “modern, comfortable experience” for travellers, with wi-fi and food and beverage available on board.
The vessels will each be powered by four engines.
“We will only operate them safely and to ensure passenger comfort, but we’re very confident in their ability to sail in these waters reliably and with a high frequency,” Caddick said.
The Port of Nanaimo, Snuneymuxw First Nation and Conqora announced a long-term lease agreement a little over a year ago. The Nanaimo-based Vancouver Island Ferry Company has since been set up and its website, http://vifc.com, is now live.
“We’re committed,” Amin said. “I know that there’s been a lot of questions and sometimes there still are around whether this is real, but let me guarantee that this is real, it’s here and it’s here to stay.”
He said he thinks the new service will be a “transformative” addition to the transportation system on the coast.
“We’re here to connect people to the other side, whichever way you’re coming, but also to connect people to possibilities,” Amin said.
Donna Hais, Nanaimo Port Authority chairperson, said the community has needed greater access for a very long time. She said while the existing B.C. Ferries routes, helicopters and planes provide great service, they can’t keep up with the service demands of a rapidly growing city.
Greater access to friends and family members, health services, sports and entertainment and tourism opportunities are some of the benefits a foot-passenger ferry would bring, she said.
“I know what Conqora’s projections look like for capacity. I know about the 600,000, 650,000 passengers,” Hais said. “I know as a member of this community, we’re going to surpass that. Two vessels will quickly be filled up.”
Snuneymuxw Coun. Erralyn Joseph said a foot passenger ferry has been a priority for the First Nation for many years and said it was a “momentous” occasion to reach this point after working with Conqora and the port authority to overcome so many challenges.
Mayor Leonard Krog credited those who have worked toward and remained optimistic about a foot ferry service over various iterations, operators and proposals over the years. It’s something people in Nanaimo have “hoped for, wished for, waited desperately for, panted for, practically,” the mayor said.