Investors confident foot ferry will be successful

NANAIMO – A new passenger-only ferry is being proposed for Nanaimo.

Investors behind a new passenger-only ferry service believe they have all the right ingredients for success.

David Marshall, director of operations for Island Ferries, recently announced plans for a passenger-only ferry between Nanaimo and downtown Vancouver.

It would be the third time a foot ferry service sets sail across the Georgia Strait from Nanaimo, but Marshall says this venture will be successful.

There is not only demand in the Harbour City for a quick link to the Lower Mainland, but Island Ferries has learned from the successes and failures of its predecessor, HarbourLynx, he said.

That failed ferry experiment ran for 27 months.

“Certainly the previous operator understood there was a need for a passenger ferry service in Nanaimo and they did their very best to bring that service here,” he said.

“They had one vessel – you actually need two so that you can always be there when your customers need you to be there and you have to have ships that can continue to run even if you run into difficulties.”

According to Marshall, the group behind HarbourLynx ran into challenges early on after purchasing a single, used vessel that required a lot of capital to make operational. There wasn’t enough money left to do an aggressive marketing campaign, he said.

The ship also had only two engines, so if one broke down the boat would have to be taken out of service. The latest proposal includes two vessels with four engines each.

If one engine breaks down, the ship can not only return to its port, but  continue to run on three propulsion systems until Island Ferries schedules a repair.

There is also enough capital to help the ferry service get through its start-up period, Marshall said.

City council member Bill McKay, former director of operations for HarbourLynx,  believes  the new foot ferry service will work. Island Ferries has a larger investment at $63 million than Harbour-Lynx’s $10 million and it could have the city as a small partner.

Island Ferries is proposing a partnership agreement that would require the city to take a smaller portion of  revenue over five years – a $2.5-million loss – and require the ferry service to do a minimum three rounds trips each day.

“We are going to be able to play a bigger role in providing them with an operating environment they can survive and prosper in, which Harbour-

Lynx didn’t have,” McKay said of the potential deal.

If the ferry service is successful, McKay said he anticipates economic and tourism benefits for the city.

“I believe that a fast ferry could be as big to Nanaimo as coal was,” he said.

Island Ferries continues to wait for final investment and a new lease agreement from the City of Nanaimo. The service is anticipated to start next spring.