In the not-too-distant future, Texada Island residents will be able to board a ferry that goes directly to Vancouver Island, BC Ferries executives told community members on November 2.
The ferry corporation announced at the Northern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting that it is committing to run the Texada pilot project in the late summer or fall of 2018.
BC Ferries has not settled on whether the direct connection will involve altering the Comox-Powell River or Powell River-Texada route, said BC Ferries vice-president of strategy and community engagement Mark Wilson.
“It's fair to say we'll move forward with the pilot fully committed though,” said Wilson.
The company is looking at either providing a triangle run, the option requested by the FAC, or an L-run that would involve North Island Princess replacement vessel, now known as M47, turning left when it leaves Blubber Bay.
Wilson added that the company will work with the community and ferry advisory committee to determine the best option for the service.
BC Ferries director of fleet operational strategy Peter Simpson said at the meeting that the company had engineering consultants working on a review of the required terminal upgrades at Blubber Bay over the summer and is expecting details of that report soon. Simpson said the company would want to complete those upgrades before it starts the direct connection pilot project.
News of the commitment was welcomed by committee members.
“It’s really great," said FAC chair Kim Barton-Bridges.
Texada representative to the committee Sandy McCormick said she was pleased to hear that, after years of advocating for the service, BC Ferries was willing to perform a pilot. She said she believes the added service will make BC Ferries money.
"I'm very pleased they are willing to do this," said McCormick after the meeting. "There are still a lot of roads to go down before we fully get there, but it's really good news for the people of Texada.”
McCormick said it makes sense for BC Ferries to upgrade the dock prior to new vessels coming into service in 2020, but she was concerned that if the corporation chose the L-run option, the island may have to wait another two years before they engage the pilot.
Texada Action Network chair Chuck Childress attended the meeting as an observer. He said he was taken aback by the announcement, but was optimistic about the pilot.
“What it will look like remains to be seen,” said Childress. “There were some hints that it might not look like what we asked for. If I'm optimistic, it might even look better."
After the meeting, BC Ferries president and chief executive officer Mark Collins said the ferry corporation took another look at providing the service after the FAC had been “very eloquent in bringing the case forward.”
“We're trying to be more responsive to community needs,” said Collins. "When we work with communities closely, we understand the impacts on communities better.”
Collins added that the newly found consensus on the committee regarding the issue played a key role in BC Ferries being able to look at the pilot.
After the meeting, McCormick explained that she and a former Texada representative to the committee commissioned a community survey in 2015 on what islanders thought about the concept of the triangle run, not the L-run.
She said almost 100 per cent of respondents said they would support the triangle run, but did not want any change to the Powell River-Texada schedule. McCormick said she is willing to ask the community again what it prefers.
"We support the triangle run," she said. “While I'm enthusiastic and welcome the news that they made today, I also have this alarm bell ringing in my head.”