There is a beast on the coast, it haunts all residents, it is a necessary evil but yet to most it is our livelihood. It is big and white and travels Howe Sound and it doesn’t like to be messed with.
If you haven’t already guessed I am talking about the Queen of Surrey and our tragic relationship with BC Ferries.
First the Facts
Queen of Surrey using a C-Class ferry which can carry some 362 cars and over 1,500 passengers. The Surrey is Cowichan Class and was put into service in 1981 It and the Queen of Oak Bay were the last two of the C-Class build in North Vancouver. Other then some help over the summer from the Queen of Coquitlam it is the only boat the runs on route 3 which travels between Langdale and Horseshoe Bay. The ship provides bi-hourly service, with a route of 9.7 nautical miles taking approximately 40 minutes to making the crossing.
The Sunshine Coast has been serviced by ferries since it’s inception as a community. With a number of vessels making the route. One vessel of particular note was the Sunshine Coast Queen nicknamed Suzy Q. After the Suzy Q was retired in 1976 the coast was serviced by two double-ended Ferries that would travel back and forth. A decision was made in the early 80’s to switch to one larger C-Class ferry that was larger faster and could handle all of the traffic. But the trade-off was it would only run every two hours.
And from what I can recall (I was quite young at the time) There was a lot of grumbling and discontent that the frequency of ferry service was decreasing. But BC Ferries vowed that this would be cheaper to operate with the same amount of traffic.
Other improvements were included a new ramp for loading the 3rd car deck at the Langdale terminal and a new gantry at Horseshoe Bay to allow walk-on passengers to board directly on to the passenger area of the vessel. Both of these decreased the loading time of the vessel.
The Langdale Terminal also got a new parking lot, drop off area, coffee shop and bus stop, along with a new layout at the Langdale Terminal to adjust for increasing capacity.
The Black sheep of the Mainland Routes
There were always trade-offs in this smaller route. For example, we don’t have traffic that the island routes do. But we also don’t have the weather storm delays or volume delays of the island routes either. The Howe Sound route is claimer then crossing the Strait of Georgia and when other sailings were cancelled the Langdale route was still running. So when I was a kid I would always see these huge lineups for the Nanaimo route and be glad it wasn’t our route.
But and it is a big but… like a little brother or sister we always got the discards from the larger route. When the ferry was refit we were the last to get it, They would take our boat give it a refit and then it would sail the Nanaimo route. We always grumbled about this but other than a nicer boat for better for worse it still relatively decent service.
Coast, not the secret it use to be
Once I was a teenager the coast had its own transit bus and there was something called the commuter who would work in Vancouver and travel by ferry to the Coast. A lot of people said it was more enjoyable than being stuck in a traffic jam. But with that came added traffic to the coast and the ferry. These commuters would leave for the 6:20am ferry arriving for work at 8:30am in Vancouver and then return on the 5:30pm ferry getting you back into Sechelt around 7:00pm. And a lot of people start to do this. Living in Gibsons was a lot easier then further up the coast. But I knew people in Halfmoon Bay who would do this 4 to 5 days a week. Again this only worked when the ferry ran on time and for a time it did. But commuting via ferry was never for me. I don’t think it ever will be.
The Summer hit the coast and all hands are on deck for the busy season, And much like the rest of the coast you can feel the increased traffic and give BC Ferries some credit service has certainly increased during the summer months adding another C-class vessel.
But it is here that lies the problem in my opinion
With every two hour service and a crossing time of forty minutes. You only have 10 minutes on either side to load/unload and leave for the other side. But this only works when the boat is 2/3rds full. The time it takes to stuff the boat will always leave the boat running late.
(You can usually see this on the Saturday 8:20 ferry) But the boat can usually catch up on the next run. (As of 2016 if there is only one boat on the route it is usually running late.)
Problem number one: We have enough traffic to constantly make only one ferry late and but not enough to need a second ferry of duplicate size and capacity. (eg. Queen of Coquitlam or variation of that)
Problem number two: We only have one big boat, there is no robustness or scalability to any issue we might have. So, for example, a dock problem = delays, 50 extra cars? = delays, Anything out of the ordinary traffic = Delays. And unlike years gone past it is getting increasing hard to keep this demanding schedule.
Problem number three: Regardless of the boat on the langdale route. If there is more then half the boat full it’s most likely running late.
When the Queen of Surrey was in dry dock for most of the summer as it had broken down a number of time in the early summer the Queen of Coquitlam took over and it couldn’t keep pace with the schedule and yet is the same class and size of boat with a slightly different layout and been put into service 5 years previous. The only thing I can see from this is that if the Queen of Surrey can barely keep up with the demanding schedule it is beyond the scope of a boat five years older.
Problem number four: Except for the MV Skeena Queen and MV Island Sky who have dedicated routes. Every other mid-sized ferry was built before the 1980’s with high maintenance cost and antiquated technology on the boats. (This was originally written 2010 btw)
I don’t doubt BC Ferries has known this for years and I don’t doubt the complexity of the problem with a route that has reached traffic capacity. But the current setup just isn’t working and it is troubling.
But that is the biggest concern I have, is that this little route isn’t little anymore and makes quite the profit for the ferries and yet I constantly feel like a second-class citizen who’s opinions don’t matter in the eyes of the Ferry Corp. I now try to avoid any conversation with BC Ferries employees as they aren’t in the customer service business.