A New Passenger Ferry Between Vancouver and Victoria?

We live in Victoria, but spend a lot of time in Vancouver. For the first couple of months of this year, when teaching a course at UBC, we were over every week. I actually don’t mind the ferry ride itself. I enjoy the opportunity to get an hour of work done without the distraction of the internet.

It’s the bus trips between Victoria and Sidney and Tsawassen and Vancouver that suck hard. They’re long, tedious and you can’t really work. Plus, I’m inevitably sitting near some cell-phone-talking douchebag who wants the whole bus to know about their new Ugg boots, or whatever.

I heard about a possible new passenger ferry service between downtown Vancouver and Victoria (here’s a short piece from Global, after the ad, thanks to 8chocolate for the link). Nautisol is still in the market research stage, and we’ll probably be living elsewhere if and when they put boats in the water, but I was still intrigued. From their website:

  • 90 minute travel between city centers Victoria-Vancouver
  • Economy or Business Class
  • E-Ticketing with multi-language function
  • Kiosk ticket vending with multi-language function
  • Telephone ticketing
  • Terminal locations integrated with existing public and private transportation systems
  • Full service terminals to include Wi-Fi, ATM and Food Kiosks
  • Bicycle racks
  • Shuttle Bus Services

I see somebody caught the capitalization plague.

They’re running a rather peculiar customer survey, full of push questions (“Liquid Natural Gas is the fuel used to power this ferry service. LNG is one of the safest and cleanest fuels available.”), but I’m intrigued. Two attempts at providing alternative services have failed in the past. There’s the infamous PacificCats, rusting away in North Vancouver shipyards. Before that there was the Royal Sealink Express, which I remember taking a few times as a student in the early nineties. It’s a pity that didn’t work out–it was very convenient. The last time I was in the SeaBus terminal at Waterfront station, I’m pretty sure I saw a fading Sealink brand on an office door.

I’d imagine that, at some point, there will be enough people wanting to shuttle more efficiently between Vancouver and Victoria to make such a service viable. Has that day come?


  1. just a point of clarification: the “fast cat” ferries were never intended as a downtown-to-downtown service alternative. they were meant to speed up the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay service currently provided by BC Ferries.

    sorry, it always bugs me when that’s confused.

    1. Good point. I adjusted the post slightly so that it says “providing alternative services”, which is more ambiguous but also more accurate.

  2. “rusting away in North Vancouver shipyards” Nice simile, even though the vessels themselves are made out of aluminum! Are you doing work for the BC Liberal party these days? 😉

    1. I don’t think that qualifies as a simile, but who knew? I expect they’ve got some bits that are rusting, rotting or otherwise decaying. I suppose I could have gone with ‘languishing’ instead of ‘rusting away’.

      What would an unbiased description of their current circumstances look like?

  3. I don’t think the time has come. Such services have come and gone several times before — there was the Royal Sealink Express. Before that there was a fast hydroplane-style ferry whose name I forget.

    Back in the ’70s Canadian Pacific even ran a traditional big-ship vehicle ferry (just like the BC Ferry vessels) from downtown to downtown. I took it once with my parents, and it was a fascinating trip, if long. I remember the main forward passenger lounge had an unusual carpet pattern. (What can I say? I wasn’t yet ten years old.) On the mainland side, it used to dock where the new Vancouver Convention Centre is.

    The unfortunate fact is that those who really need the speed and lack of hassle take a float plane or a helicopter. Yes, it may cost between $130 and $245 one way, per person, but for people making enough money, the time savings is likely worth it.

    I think that squeezes demand enough in the middle that a more-pricey-than-BC-Ferries/less-pricey-than-air-travel alternative probably isn’t viable, or someone would have been able to make a stable go of it in the past 30 years.

  4. That really is a messed-up survey. “Hey, our service is significantly faster and/or cheaper. Now which service do you think is the best?”.

    I think Derek’s on the mark — those that can afford to fly will fly (many are probably writing it off for business anyway). I notice that their survey didn’t include taking public transit to/from the terminals plus going as a walk-on passenger. That’s a market that they’d have to tap into in order to be successful and cost-wise, I don’t think they’re going to be able to do it.

  5. I agree with Derek.
    Personally, for my money and time a combination of ferry and flights usually works out. Also with controlled speeds entering and existing the harbours, and weather, I think at best trip times would be 2- 2.5 hours.

  6. “cellphone talking douchebag”. I’m a bit more emphatic in my description .

    Have you thought about some noise-cancelling headphones? I have a pair of mid-range Sony MDR NC40 “on the ear” phones and find they do the trick for me. There are better ones, there are more expensive ones. Mine are “good enough” without having to break open the piggy bank.

    Generally, people say they work best in reducing ambiant background noise (like airplane engines). And, while even the more expensive ones are not perfect, the noise-cancellation plus some new age music is usually enough to block out all the cell phoners and give me a sound cocoon that makes my trips much more pleasant.

    1. I have a pair of great Panasonic noise-cancelling headphones, but I find they’re not great at blocking out conversational noise. They’re good at reducing general background noise (and are fantastic on planes), but I find that they don’t help with reducing local, loud voices. Maybe I need a new pair.

  7. I didn’t realize you were in Victoria!

    I love the idea but geography and price seem against it. If I really need to get to Vancouver in a hurry one way air and a leisurely ferry ride home works.

    Looked at in mileage: Downtown to downtown 91 miles, Victoria to Richmond (catch the skytrain) 81 miles; Sydney to Tsawwassen 27 miles. Average speed on highway even on sucky bus 45MPH, ferry 15 knots.

    Likely not going to happen.

  8. Like you Darren, I often have to take this trip to Vancouver. My beef isn’t with the ferry service, which takes a reasonable amount of time (2 hours, from embark to disembark for a walk-on), but with the public bus service. It is atrociously inefficient. And the conspiracy theorist in me can’t help but suspect that it’s designed this way by a tripartite of players: BC Ferries, BC Transit and PCL Coach/Delta Taxi Co.

    On the Victoria side, the so-called Express bus from downtown Victoria takes an hour to take a trip that by car takes 25 minutes. On the Vancouver side, there is no Express bus (except on Saturdays); just a sad combination of transfers that never seem to hook up, resulting in an 1.5 hour-long trip (longer on the way too the ferry). Grand total time downtown Vic to downtown Van: 5 hours. I’m always been stunned by this apparent lack of coordination by the public services to a major transportation exchange.

    Why? Perhaps because PCL has an exclusive contract to deliver people at $45 one-way (a trip that would cost only $20 by public transit).

    Don’t even get me started on the price to take a cab anywhere (it cost me $70 to go from Tswassen to White Rock last time — never again).

    Sorry for the rant – but I’ve been waiting for a chance to complain about this. Translink, are you listening?

  9. This was proposed before in the 80s by the Socreds Jack Davis (from UBC to Nanaimo) and shelved because of major marine weather concerns. Around the same time a bridge over Gabriola was considered, but shelved for the same reasons (and Gabriola residents threatened to do a class action suit).
    Its possible they could use the cruise ship terminals at Canada Place, but I wouldn’t hold your breath. There are apparently good logistical reasons why the only ferries go from Horseshoe Bay and Tsawassen.

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