Port will seek foot ferry operator

Island Ferries shocked at announcement that the Nanaimo Port Authority will seek requests for proposals for passenger ferry.

Island Ferries isn’t the only company interested in launching a passenger ferry from Nanaimo – and the port authority aims to prove it.

The Nanaimo Port Authority announced Friday it will seek requests for proposals in the new year for a daily foot ferry service between Nanaimo and Vancouver.

The bid comes as Island Ferries, a company that’s proposed a $63-million passenger service along the same stretch of industrial waterfront, continues to work on final investment. It has been looking for money to start its service since 2013, including millions in federal dollars.

The port has been patient, according to Bernie Dumas, CEO and president of the port authority, but he says it feels there are other candidates willing to talk about a service and wants to see what those opportunities are.

The community is also voicing a need for a passenger service and the port has the infrastructure to support it.

“The port authority has just been sitting on the sidelines, working with the city and economic development … and we’re of the opinion that, why are we waiting so long?” Dumas said. “We’re going out to see if we can find an operator that has the financial support and the experience to do a good service for our community.”

The operator would lease infrastructure from the port, but the service would be privately funded and operated. Island Ferries would also be welcome to apply, although a previous five-year effort among the two parties to arrive at terms for the site were unsuccessful.

Island Ferries spokesman Dave Marshall said the port wanted an exorbitant amount of money that wasn’t sustainable for a start-up business.

He said his company is “extraordinarily disappointed” with the port’s recent action.

Marshall said Island Ferries met with port officials in June to discuss progress on equity and so it is shocked by this announcement, which is unilateral and puts the company’s work at “great risk.”

He would not publicly share information on the investment being worked on.

“We are focused on delivering the service,” said Marshall. “We have put too much money into it to be dissuaded.”

He doesn’t believe two ferries can operate side by side. Dumas, however, says the community would be the winner.

“If you have two people attempting to develop a service, then you are going to have some competition,” he said.

The port will talk to various communities in the region to gauge their support for a passenger ferry.

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