New ferry service proposed to link downtown Vancouver and Victoria Inner Harbour

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Image: Riverside Marine Australia / Facebook

An Australian company has proposed to operate a new foot passenger ferry service from downtown Vancouver to Victoria Inner Harbour, providing British Columbians and tourists with a new direct route between the two largest economic centres of the province.

Riverside Marine is planning to run the ferry service using using two catamaran ferry vessels that operate from Victoria’s CPR Steamship Terminal building, formerly occupied by the Wax Museum, to the piers in front of the Vancouver Convention Centre’s West Building. Each vessel will have a capacity of 300 passengers, with the service running two daily sailings.

A single one-way trip is expected to cost about $80 and take approximately three hours from end to end. In contrast, the B.C. Ferries route from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay costs $16.90 per passenger and has a travel time of 95 minutes, although this does not include the additional driving time to the city centres. As well, a Harbour Air flight from Coal Harbour to Victoria Inner Harbour costs $205 per passenger and takes 30 minutes.

But operators have noted that their service will be targeted to tourists who are looking for a different kind of experience rather than a quick commute.

Other uses of the Steamship Terminal could potentially include a deep ocean education centre operated by the University of Victoria.

The company has almost 90 years of experience in marine tourism and transportation and operates a number of experiential ferry services in Australia that are similar to what is being proposed for Vancouver and Victoria.

“The interest generated in the Steamship Terminal highlights Victoria’s growing position as a leading centre of innovation,“ said City of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps in a statement.

“We’re pleased that the Harbour Authority is working with two new potential tenants—both world leaders in their respective fields of marine transportation and ocean research—in order to generate news jobs, expand tourism opportunities and enhance the public’s enjoyment of the city’s historic waterfront area.”

The last time a direct ferry service operated between the two city centres was in 1993, but that service was forced to shutdown due to financial difficulties after less than two years of business.

More than a decade ago, a high-speed ferry service called Harbour Lynx ran from Coal Harbour to downtown Nanaimo and saw some initial success. However, the service went under after its single ferry vessel encountered engine problems that were beyond the company’s financial capacity to remediate.

Recently, there was a private sector plan to revive a high-speed passenger service from downtown Vancouver to downtown Nanaimo. The launch of the service has since been delayed – it was originally scheduled for a March 2015 launch. When it was first announced, proponents said the service would transport passengers between destinations in just 68 minutes with fares of between $24 to $31.

At least one ferry service has defied the odds of failure. The Victoria Clipper, a catamaran ferry service, has been running between Seattle and Victoria Inner Harbour since 1986 with two daily sailings. It is a three hour cruise through Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, with a round-trip cost of up to US$179 during the summer peak season.

It remains to be seen whether sufficient demand exists for new ferry services between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver Island, but it should be noted that the South Coast has experienced significant population growth since these services failed.

Downtown Vancouver, for instance, has densified with more residents, a larger workforce, and is now served with the SkyTrain Canada Line, which is within a short walking distance to the convention centre’s pier.

In addition, tourism in B.C. has spiked over the past year due to the declining value of the Canadian dollar against many currencies.

Videos of Riverside Marine’s Sydney service

Videos of the Victoria Clipper

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Kenneth Chan Deputy Editor & Social Media Manager at Vancity Buzz. He covers stories pertaining to local architecture, urban issues, politics, business, retail, economic development, transportation, infrastructure, and anything else that makes a difference in the lives of Vancouverites. Kenneth is also a Co-Founder of New Year's Eve Vancouver. Connect with him at kenneth[at]vancitybuzz.com
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