Foot ferry buoys spirits

Island Ferry Services intends to raise a sunken ship, so to speak, and bring back a fast foot ferry linking Nanaimo to Vancouver.

We’re the Harbour City and we’re the Hub City. Transportation is what we do, what we know, what we need.

So it is welcome news that another transportation option wants to set sail from our shores. Island Ferry Services intends to raise a sunken ship, so to speak, and bring back a fast foot ferry linking downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver.

The plan was pitched to the public this week, and there’s a lot to like. Island Ferries wants to build its terminal on city-owned land that has already been earmarked as a transportation hub, so any revenue to the municipality at that site is new money.

And this is a service that would benefit Nanaimoites. Compared to taking B.C. Ferries to Horseshoe Bay and busing to downtown Vancouver, the ride will basically take half the time, for twice the price. That’s a tradeoff that’s bound to appeal to weary travellers.

Will there be enough of those travellers, though, to make this a successful business venture? The last foot ferry, HarbourLynx, went bankrupt seven years ago and for all we know is serving as an artificial reef for scuba divers these days. As with passenger rail, we’ve lived without a foot ferry for so long that we’ve forgotten what it was like to have it, and certainly learned to live without it. So even though a foot ferry is an old idea, Island Ferries is, in a way, embarking on a brand-new business venture without really knowing if it’s going to be able to sell tickets.

If it fails, then the municipality might be sinking money into servicing a site, an access road and a parking lot – basically building a transportation hub that goes nowhere.

By all accounts, the two new Island Ferries vessels are seaworthy. We hope the business plan is just as seaworthy, and that in the years to come, these boats become a familiar sight coming and going in our harbour, in our hub.