Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Ferry Fares

with 51 comments

Vaughan Palmer has another big think piece in the Sun today “Opinion: Fares are the albatross around the neck of new BC Ferries boss”

Queen of Surrey

It is, as one has come to expect, thorough and thoughtful. But there is a very surprising omission. The issue as he states is the fares are too high and that if fares were reduced then usage would increase which would increase revenue. But nowhere in the article can I find the term “fares elasticity” or any discussion about what effect changes in fares have had – or might have – in quantified terms.

As it happens, this has been one of the things that, as a transportation economist, I spent a lot of time working on. It is not at all simple and straightforward – few things in life are. Perhaps not quite as difficult to model as the Higgs Boson – but close – but at least we know that fares elasticity actually exists. The jury is still out on the boson. And the fares elasticity for BC Ferries has indeed been the subject of a recent, thorough and objective study by InterVistas for the Ferry Commisioner (that’s a pdf file you might want to save for future reference).

On Page 19 the elasticity for the major routes is stated to be

  • Ferry demand depends on the price of ferry services, with a price elasticity of roughly -0.28.
  • Ferry demand depends on GDP growth (or reduction) with an elasticity of roughly +0.21.
  • No discernable impact of population on ferry demand is apparent, at least with this data set.
  • The seasonality effect in the total ferry traffic is strong and significant. It dominates the model.Seasonality alone explains 99% of the variation in the quarterly data.

And then the report goes on to examine the other routes

At this stage, I am not going to get into the analysis, except to make a couple of observations. All economic forecasts are based on the caveat “other things being equal” and in real life they never are. Secondly, the consultants were looking at the potential revenue from fare increases i.e how much usage is lost when the price goes up. Elasticities cannot be assumed to be symmetrical. For an order of magnitude estimates, they are not bad, but people react differently to a price cut than a price increase. That is due to the law of diminishing marginal returns – buying twice as much of something doesn’t make you twice as happy even if you got a two for one deal. The second thing you bought was not as rewarding to you as the first and thus not worth as much.

But even so, for an opinion piece in the Sun, and the ease of finding this information, Palmer’s questions can indeed be answered. Now, at this stage I am not going to get into the complexities of the ferry routes and what ought to happen. My point at the moment is the simple one: Palmer should have found this report and ought to have referenced it. But maybe, like me, he does not have the time at present to read the entire thing, or have the energy to actually work out for the new ferry CEO what the answers to these sums look like. But clearly they fall into the category of “known unknowns” right now.

Maybe, when I have a bit more time I can return to this subject, but I am surprised that I have not got more response on the ferry issue in general.

Written by Stephen Rees

December 10, 2011 at 1:50 pm

51 Responses

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  1. There are a couple of additional factors that affect elasticity for the car ferries: (a)the availability and costs of parking at the ferry termial at the departure point; and (b) the availability of public transit or rental bikes and cars at both departure and arrival point. If those are favourable, you will get fewer cars going aboard and presumably less trip revenue.

    With time, both routes between VI and Metro Vancouver will see more and speedier public transit from city centres to the ferry terminals; BC Ferries had best prepare for that. But, not long ago, I tried to get their record of walk-on passengers during 2010 expecting to see greater numbers now that Canada Line is in operation, but their reply was that they do not track that (or they would not admit to it).

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 10, 2011 at 3:38 pm

  2. It looks like the usual suspects (no, not the politicians, us, the peanuts gallery on this blog) don’t take the ferry often enough to worry about ferries prices.

    Do the BC ferries give a big discount to customers booking several months in advance, the way some European train companies do routinely? the Assured loading tickets appear to be more expensive than normal ones…on TGV and Eurostar trains the sooner one books (90 days), the cheaper the fare..(something like 75% off but no refund if one miss the train for any reason) and yes there is assured seating as reservation comes with any ticket, even the cheapest ones. I know, this is a weird comparison…

    I tried to check several Euro companies—including Condor Ferries, with their fast catamarans—but the various routes, the difference in currencies etc. is more work than I can hack right now..

    I wonder if someone on this blog has a basic knowledge of Ferries fares in Washington the average routes for our neighbours and us might be relatively similar, …at least compared to the Ferries between the UK and France, those between mainland France and Corsica and the ferries between Finland and Sweden, all ferries with fairly long routes.

    What it interesting is that there are several companies are competing with one another on both the Channel routes and on the Mediterranean routes (not all companies service both areas).

    I enjoyed watching Condor ferries youTube at

    and “youtube Dover to Boulogne on LD Lines’ “Norman Arrow” Review” (you have to copy and paste in Google..couldn’t find the right link to post automatically.
    I had no idea they were that big inside…and they do move!

    In my youth we often used a ferry that linked both sides of the estuary shared by the Dordogne and Garonne rivers (the later flows by Bordeaux, Toulouse etc.).
    While the estuary is 10 km at its widest it is narrower right at the mouth so the crossing only took 30 minutes.
    In winter, when the ocean tides rush to enter the estuary they hit the ferries sideways, making them bob like a demented cork.
    Loading /unloading vehicles in the old ferries was by the sides. A big chunk of the side was made of sections about 2.5 meters wide that, when the ferry was alongside the quai, lowered to meet a quai that was not horizontal but sloped!!! The sections could move up and down independently from one another..

    Cars, trucks and buses had to make a sharp 90 degrees turn to go from the quai to the ferry or vice versa, while the ferry bobbed up and down with the tide…in bad weather it was like a roller coaster. Yet lots of vehicles used it as the first bridges across both rivers was about 80 km from the estuary mouth…as the crow flies…longer by road…

    In 2002 they finally got a ferry with loading at each end. Another one went in service in 2009. They cross in about 25 minutes..

    7 km out in the Ocean to signal the estuary is a lighthouse (Cordouan lighthouse). The first one was built in the 14th century. The current one was put in service in 1611. It has been “modernized” many times since but the lower part is still the original 17th cent. building.

    Click to access la_cordouan.pdf

    Red frog

    December 12, 2011 at 5:21 am

  3. I hope that I didn’t do something illegal….I had no idea that by posting the link the video would be embedded in the message!

    Red frog

    December 12, 2011 at 5:27 am

  4. If it was illegal, you couldn’t do it! WordPress has been upgrading the service steadily – this must be a new feature

    Stephen Rees

    December 12, 2011 at 8:25 am

  5. @Lloyd
    I thought maritime rules were fairly strict regarding operators knowing exactly how many passengers they have on each voyage. If BC Ferries doesn’t know they certainly aught to.

    Not only should a ferry analysis look at price elasticity, it must also include supply side issues. Is there any excess capacity to deal with increased demand or would a price cut do to BC Ferries what the U-Pass did to Translink? Is any excess capacity available at times when people want to travel? At what point does increased demand require the operation of an additional vessel?


    December 12, 2011 at 1:09 pm

  6. There are those who use the ferries regularly who accept the cost and hassle as part of life. I know a few people with family on the Island that require frequent visitations who are in a state of reluctant acceptance. Commercial customers may be the most vociferous opponents to cost increases, but outright privatization would, I believe, result in higher costs even on the more stable main routes.

    Then there are the rest of us. We often go to Victoria to visit the in-laws and accept the ferries as part of the trip. In fact, we rarely travel on them without a reservation (especially on weekends and holidays) and value the $15 per direction additional cost as reasonable compared to a multiple sailing delay at either end. Our time is worth more. With a reservation you are first on board and can get usually a nice table in the Pacific Buffet which has better food than the cafeterias, though it’s a tad expensive. The PB is sometimes partly empty and is a pleasure to use. On occasions when it’s crowded, you know the rest of the boat is that much worse.

    There will come a day when the government and ferry planners will start to question the cost and necessity to move so many cars along with the people. Car ferries are much larger and far more expensive to build and operate, and require a lot more infrastructure to support cars than a passenger service ever would require. I suggest a high-speed public passenger-only ferry service has a lot of potential, especially with downtown-to-downtown service and decent transit at both ends (Waterfront Station in Vancouver is practically there already). When you look at the potential for Vancouver Island regarding the E&N Railway corridor, especially extending it up to Campbell River and coupling it with regional urban commuter rail and light rail connections to ferry terminals and the downtown areas of all the towns lined up along the eastern shore, it’s quite phenomenal.


    December 13, 2011 at 3:47 pm

  7. I had the same thoughts MB… The ferry posts don’t generate the same amount repsonse as the viaduct posts, or Skytrain vs. LRT, as you put it, a reluctant acceptance of the status quo… the slow but steady increase in rates doesn’t generate the kind of outrage as in 1976, when Car & Driver increased from $7.00 (unchanged since 1960) to $14.00. Seems like a bargain compared to $61.50, even with inflation.

    There were a couple of attempts to run high-speed ferries out of Waterfront Station to downtown Victoria and Nanaimo, Royal Sealink in the early 90s to Nanaimo and Victoria; Harboulynx to Nanaimo c. 2003-06. I took both to Nanaimo, Harbourlynx was a godsend when a family funeral co-incided with a ferry strike. As I recall, the Victoria run took several hours, and could be stomach churning when seas were roughl

    Nice photo Stephen, compare the Queen of Surrey (362 cars) with the SS Smokwa in the 50s (35 cars)… This was when Black Ball ran the ferries out of Horsehoe Bay, bought by the BC Government December 1 1961 (50 years ago this month)…BC Ferries started in 1960 with two ferries and one route, but by the end of ’61 they’d bought Black Ball and the Gulf Island Ferry Company to become the entity we know and love/hate today (The rest of the saltwater ferries were transferred from the Ministry of Highways in the 80s)

    The Other David

    December 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm

  8. Those interested in the history of ferry travel in BC may enjoy this photo essay on the last of the Black Ball ferries to remain in service, the Chinook/Sechelt Queen. Built as a pocket liner for the Seattle-Vancouver overnight run, at a time when ferry travel was glamorous (as air travel was a decade later), the interior in the photos on page 1 were long gone by the time she was on the Comox-Powell River MoH run in the late 70s

    The Other David

    December 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm

  9. Thanks, Other David, for the links. The MV Chinook looks pretty cool in a 50’s Deco ~ Moderne way. I’ll bet it looked like a real boat on the interior too instead of a floating mall.

    I am aware of the two previous private passenger catamaran services. The HarbourLynx once announced after a year or so they had some repairs and financial issues but expected to get back into service. Never heard from them again.

    My wife took the former Vancouver-Victoria passenger service once and really liked it compared to Pacific Coach Lines. If memory serves, they had a dock in Victoria’s inner harbour and therein good bus connections. The rock & roll in the open Strait wasn’t bad.

    The scariest ferry ride I’ve had was Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen in March ’97. They shouldn’t have let the ferry sail. There was a marine bomb with a southeaster at the maximum gale force and once the old Queen class boat cleared Active Pass it was broadsided by the wind and rollers. The captain slowed but didn’t alter course for quite a while, and the huge waves and wind pressure on the starboard wall started a serious roll. The roll angle had to be well over 20 degrees, and being in the cafeteria we saw piles of dishes and desserts in the glass cabinets crash to the floor, first on one side, then the other as the boat rolled one way then the other. Staff were scrambling to try to save them, but one guy slipped on the floor and cut himself and they gave up after that. The captain finally turned the boat 90 degrees and headed into the wind and waves and slowed more. I thought the waves would smash through the bow doors (you could feel the vibration and booming throughout the hull), but they held. He ordered everyone to sit down, but there weren’t enough chairs for the number of people – kind of strange that – and lots had to sit on the floor. There were many seasick people and the floor and stairs down to the car deck were slick in several places with vomit. Oh what fun that was. The boat tacked SE into the wind and well into US waters, then did a sharp U-turn and tacked up to the terminal. At the last possible minute and with the engines in reverse, the captain did another sharp turn to starboard and the wind pushed the boat hard against the caissons, then he slid the boat forward to the ramps before allowing anybody to stand up.

    Modern boats can be specified with expensive dampers (travelling weights, or pumped ballast from one tank to another) that provide a quick counter motion to rolling. I’d expect such a feature would help a smaller passenger catamaran stabilize in rough weather, but recouping the cost may have to result in higher ticket prices. Dampers won’t stop the up and down motion when climbing and descending the peaks and troughs of big waves.

    Some people have proposed building a floating bridge to the island, an idea that I find ludicrous. I’ll gladly take the ferries, rolling or not, before accepting a $25 billion floating freeway. The engineering challenges would be tremendous near the southern ferry routes where the Strait is widest, and the impact to Van Isle would be overwhelming. Who needs to reinvent the wheel? The ferries, warts and all, work. They aren’t broken, but of course they can always be improved. And there’s a whole new and much more affordable realm to explore with moving people over the water instead of cars.

    Vancouver became the western terminus for the first railway to link our country together. It may eventually become the terminus for the second, a high speed 21st Century rail link. What better way is there than to have a passenger ferry terminal to the Island at the terminus station?


    December 14, 2011 at 10:25 am

  10. I’ve been on a few rough crossings, where “sickness bags” were made available, but nothing like your experience MB.

    The Harborlynx service was halted by a blown engine as you alluded to…fixed.. but never ran here again… Too bad.. the downtown to downtown service had its advantages (as an Island teen, we often took the CPR Princess of Vancouver in the 70s), but after two failures, will anyone try it again?

    The 1st page of the Chinook essay has many photos of the original interior… I can remember a time when the BC Ferries had waitress service at your table in the cafeterias

    The Other David

    December 14, 2011 at 9:54 pm

  11. Hi MB, I like your 14 Dec comment: “Vancouver became the western terminus for the first railway to link our country together. It may eventually become the terminus for the second, a high speed 21st Century rail link. What better way is there than to have a passenger ferry terminal to the Island at the terminus station?”

    One of our members on IslandTransformations.Org is keen to see a fast rail connection from Victoria to Cambell River then across to the Sunshine Coast and connecting with the Amtrack in Vancouver. Great idea but we need to resurrect some politicians and entrepreneurs. Sir John A McDonald the second, where are you?

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 15, 2011 at 8:09 am

  12. Other David … someone should revive those couches in a ferry lounge!

    Lloyd, a decent Victoria-Campbell River passenger rail link seems all too logical for the current asphalt-oriented decision makers to grasp. The E&N Railway (Via) corridor is already there, and that represents some potentially large savings compared to starting from scratch. Extending the service northward from Cumberland makes a lot of sense and will probably result in decent ridership figures if the trains compete well with the highway and the much higher prices in fossil fuels expected to arrive this decade.

    I would suggest they should improve effiency with a few selective tunnels (through Malahat Mountain for one, which is sure to shorten the trip significantly to the Cowichan Valley and beyond), and connect with all ferry terminals and major urban transit routes. I would love to see some really great train station architecture too. They should also electrify the service from day one with clean island-based wind, hydro, tidal or geothermal power while using the rail corridor for transmission lines too (buried in urban areas). There is no reason why Van Isle couldn’t generate its own clean power. Electrification of the rail service will be expensive, but it will insulate the service from the price of fossil fuels.

    I’m not sure about continuing a railway over Discovery Channel into the archipelago off the Sunshine Coast. That may have to wait until we have the population density of Holland.


    December 15, 2011 at 10:16 am

  13. Thank you MB, I will pass those remarks along to our ITO member and to this thread of discussion. The Norwegians would certainly tunnel through terrain such as the Malahat and on the Sunshine Coast; but our stingy and short sighted politicians would probably say to every community along the way, “you want it, you pay for it” just like they have said for rail on the bridge here in Victoria.

    And, of course they (the Province) wouldn’t think of creating competition for their beloved BC Ferries corp. I’m confident that for every person now employed now on ferries there would be a job for them in other public transit needs whether trains or bus connections to trains!

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 15, 2011 at 4:12 pm

  14. Apparently the E&N was to be extended to Campbell River (and the CN line from Youbou to Port Alberni), but WW I intervened…

    A noble goal, MB. but is the current service even running?

    The E&N has been on the edge of cancellation since 1978, when I first became involved in the “save the E&N” movement… repainted the Duncan Station in CPR Red in 1980 but after 30 years.. if the track hasn’t been maintained, what more can the average citizen do? ….

    The Other David

    December 15, 2011 at 11:45 pm

  15. That is why IslandTransformations.Org is urging all concerned citizens and groups like yours to write your MLAs and MPs and register your demand for alternatives to highway travel. Denise Savoie and Randall Garrison (both NDP) are now on record in Hansard asking the federal government for prompt action to fund the rail services on Vancouver Island. Your letters are also needed to the BC Premier and Minister of Transport. You will find MP and MLA links on our Governance page at

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 16, 2011 at 8:02 am

  16. No, the E&N service stopped outright a while ago, and yes, that’s after decades of neglect. What I’m saying is that the corridor is there for a future service, and I sure hope they don’t sell it off in the meantime.

    Fossil fuels have increased in price by about 400% over the last decade or so, and according to the fellow running the former passenger catamaran ferry service, about 40% since 2007 (your link above). Increases in petreoleum fuel prices are an assured part of our future, and the evidence is leading to some pretty radical economic ramifications. To me, incrementally funding an electrified passenger and freight rail service not just on Van Isle, but nation wide, is not just noble, but practical. However, it may take a crisis to bring this issue forward from the view that it’s currently a waste of money, a vision originating from the far left green agenda.

    Regarding ferries, alternative fuels like next-generation biofuels from urban, agricultural and forestry waste may have to be developed, but I wouldn’t recommend such a thing using food crops or primary or secondary classes of farm land. I’d also plant more bio than what is harvested for fuel to maintain a carbon-negative ratio. Moreover, the biofuels should be directed only to public transport, emergency vehicles and farming, perhaps commercial trucking, but certainly not to the private car because there just isn’t enough capability to replace oil. The prices may be higher than what is curently paid for diesel, but one day (likely before this decade is done) they will be less costly. I’d rather see this scenario than to rely only on expensive and enviromentally damaging oil sands and shale oil for our fuels.


    December 16, 2011 at 1:51 pm

  17. Correction: “Fossil fuels have increased in price by about 400% over the last decade or so, and according to the fellow running the former passenger catamaran ferry service, about >>> 66% <<< since 2007 …"


    December 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

  18. A couple of links on the fate of the E&N

    Good luck with that Phil Kent, a southbound AM to Victoria northbound PM train has been talked about for years… As for power, BC did have one electric rail line, to Tumbler Ridge… We’re definitely way behind Europe, where electric trains traveled 250 km/h way back in the 20th century… not that I’d expect that given the topography of terrain here… I’d be happy with the railbed repaired to the point where the Dayliner can resume

    Back on topic… BC Ferries… and fuel…

    The Other David

    December 17, 2011 at 12:35 am

  19. “We’re definitely way behind Europe, where electric trains traveled 250 km/h way back in the 20th century… not that I’d expect that given the topography of terrain here…”

    In the late 1960s non-aerodynamic, non-TGV trains were running at 200 km plus in France..

    I have tried to find– in vain– the speed of the Swiss trains on major routes through mountains but I am pretty sure that they are faster on these mountain routes than the AMTRAK is on flat terrain between Seattle and Vancouver…

    I have read of a fast train, the Cisalpino, that goes from Italy to Switzerland on a mountain route (obviously..) but some internet sites say it doesn’t run anymore, others sites say that slower trains are used. Frustrating.

    I remember someone from BC mentioning, just before the 2010 Olympics, that we couldn’t use a train to Whistler because of the snow….unaware that the European, the Japanese and even the Americans have had trains to ski resorts for eons…

    Red frog

    December 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm

  20. I have found, on an interactive map of trains in Switzerland, a couple of trains running around 80 km/h, another at 106 km/h, all within the suburbs of Zurich. Not a teeth-rattling speed for sure..but according to other sites, like there are trains that can run at up to 160 km/h, others at up to 200 km/h.

    I chose Switzerland for the terrain but it was a dumb idea, as it looks like the reason many of their trains don’t run that fast is because the country is so small the trains have to stop at least as often as SkyTrain does…
    It is the same on commuter lines in other countries.. for example from Kobe to Osaka takes 23 minutes by train.(30.6 km.) There are 12 stations in between!

    Red frog

    December 18, 2011 at 11:22 pm

  21. Perhaps not quite as difficult to model as the Higgs Boson – but close – but at least we know that fares elasticity actually exists. I understand as of the last run around the circuit the God particle does not exist.

    As for the E&N or VIA, or whatever it is currently called, the passenger Bud service between Victoria and Comox was running last summer albeit very sparsely patronized. Freight service runs sporadically today: Port of Nanaimo service is, apparently, viable.

    The R of W is useable and well maintained. There is an illegal cycle/pedestrian, well-worn path, either side except the very frequent bridges (of which cycle/pedestrian is not accommodated) are hazardous.

    BC ferries’ elasticity is a euphemism for ever rising fares: the OAP weekday freebie remains. May it continue.

    Ferry service to mid-island has, IMO, a real but ignored issue: real estate. Terminus at both ends grandfathered (from the Black Ball days) real estate issues and are far more relevant than whatever the hell goes on in Switzerland.

    On the Nanaimo run, Dep. Bay, and probably HSB, have out grown their locations: unfortunately both have undergone (very badly designed) recent renovations which means relocation is for the time being a non-issue.

    However, the mid-island run is miniscule compared to the vast complexity the BC coastal service in general. I suspect, however, long grandfathered, termini along the coast consume far more valuable real estate than is economically wise.

    From a nostalgic point of view I lament the passing of the great CPR coastal service . . .

    . . . especially the graceful SS Princess Joan’s night run, Victoria-Vancouver: board 2200 hrs, white linen sleep, breakfast served on silver and off to an early 0800 hrs start to the business day.

    The change in semiotics from graceful steam ship to ugly Ro-Ro is indicative of what we have become.

    Roger Kemble

    December 19, 2011 at 5:07 am

  22. Red – topic drift as usual. Anyway, it is not the absolute speed of trains that matters – it is the relative speed of the journey compared to the other mode(s) plus the fact that in vehicle time on a train is actually usable.

    Stephen Rees

    December 19, 2011 at 6:57 am

  23. @ Other David, LNG may be an alternative to diesel and bunker fuel in the ferries, but it may buy only a few years beyond oil until its prices become dramatically higher. The Times Colonist article reiterated the price shifts already experienced in gas, and thus the need to negotiate flexible contracts with suppliers. When oil prices inevitable shift higher as cheap conventional sources decline further, guess what’s the first alternative fuel on a worldwide basis? And guess what happens to prices as demand escalates on a worldwide basis? BC Ferries would be smart to exercise better long-term planning. Unfortunately, that’s tied to provincial and federal long-term planning, something that’s been pathetic so far for governments still locked into last century’s economic models.

    @ Roger, thanks for the link to the historic shots of the ferries – linens and silver, those were the days! I remember the Sterling silver dining car settings and quality food when trans continental passenger service was run by the CPR.

    Your comment on real estate in and near the ferry terminals and rail links is insightful. This is a very important issue because one day the ferry terminals will likely require direct links with electrified passenger rail, and whether these links will occur in inner city or godforsaken outlying waterfront industrial park locations is too important an issue to ignore. The E&N corridor could very well become the main alternative to the petroleum-fueled Island Highway in the next couple or three decades. Consider that Europe’s rail systems have historically included major stations in the heart of each city, and the fact they remained largely intact, surviving the half century of explosive growth in private transport, is very telling that rail has been targeted for major expenditures during the last generation there. Now the TGV, EuroStar and ICE trains compete directly with the continental airlines and offer some things they can’t: Inner city destinations making final destinations a lot closer, vehicle room with a lot more on-board amenities, and public transit links orders of magnitude better than over here.

    Van Isle cities would be hard-pressed to offer a sea + rail direct link in large part due to the land assembly (and funding) issue you brought up. I like to be optimistic and see the potential for inner cities to benefit from revamped transportation infrastructure designed for humans instead of cars, but I’m afraid the current decision makers don’t see it that way and will make some big, expensive decisions that may prove hard to get out of as the years roll by and use up a huge portion public funding resources. This has, after all, been the norm for a long time.


    December 20, 2011 at 10:04 am

  24. I’d like to add, Roger, that it appears Nanaimo is becoming an important destination for young people just starting out and newly retired Mainlanders from BC and Flatlanders from beyond the mountains. My in-laws are testament to that.

    Unfortunately, Nanaimo is burbing up like any other sprawling city. But there is such a cool historic inner city that you are familiar with, and perhaps a new rail station there would provide the injection it needs to keep people and businesses there. In several respects an expansion to the Departure Bay ferry terminal to accommodate passenger ferries (high speed catarmarans? single hull ships?) should not result in pushing the terminal to Duke Point, but should connect to downtown somehow (light rail?). But I see a new passenger rail connection directly to the terminal and the inner city as an essential part of the Island economy in future. This may mean removing some of the single-family houses around the terminal access route, but it could also mean removing some of the car-carrying capacity (or stabilizing it to today’s level) or shifting that particular mode to DP. In all cases, the architecture and urban design of the sea + rail infrastructure itself and within several hundred metres should be deeply meaningful to the urban experience and stimulate appropriate development, just as St Pancras did for Londoners.


    December 20, 2011 at 10:23 am

  25. Yes, MB we have a beautiful downtown. Commercial Street rises and curves following the natural contours: it recently received (deservedly) an award. I live downtown and walk to all my daily amenities: my breakfast croissants particularly.

    Downtown has a refurbished rail station with a small booking office and, so far, empty rentals. The summer tourist Bud car heads, almost always almost empty, north at 1100 hrs+/- returns south 1500 hrs+/- its whistle blowing at each crossing, (unlike the CPR arriving at North Bend in the Fraser Canyon early a.m. increasing the population when its whistle wakes everyone up too early to go back to sleep), with us OAP too old to get it up.

    The tracks here are in good shape. If for only the trestles and bridges it would require huge investment to accommodate peds, and cycles: so far only Victoria to Duncan.

    Freight comes when it comes: mostly tank cars, daily and sporadic! The Port ships far too many raw logs (I’m with the Union as they march thru town in protest) that come by truck but mostly marine by tug and boom: I watch them daily from my window . . ..

    Sprawl is endemic. When I build NRGH, 1959-63 downtown was center. Subsequently northern sprawl grew, Woodgrove, as prairie OAP’s retired. A very foolish council approved more sprawl two years ago, to the south, now predictably dormant until . . . who know?

    The Dep. Bay BC ferry terminal consumes way too much valuable real estate. But summer tourist traffic backing up into town, to Pearson Bridge, is untenable: exhaust fumes plus warm air plus traffic disruption. I live just out of range.

    I am a sailor. For recreational boaters Nanaimo is ideal: equidistant to everywhere, the southern Gulf Islands to Victoria, across the Salish Sea to Vanc., and North to Toba inlet. I haven’t tussled with the biggies out of Dep. Bay but I nearly sank the Gabriola Ferry with my little Ranger 22 sail boat.

    Nan! . . . took me a while to get used to . . . great little place!

    [moderator’s note: Roger’s correction inserted instead of appearing as a separate comment]

    Roger Kemble

    December 20, 2011 at 11:47 am

  26. Thank you MB, if you have no objection I will repeat your comment about downtown rail destinations in Europe: “Europe’s rail systems have historically included major stations in the heart of each city, and the fact they remained largely intact, surviving the half century of explosive growth in private transport, is very telling that rail has been targeted for major expenditures during the last generation there. Now the TGV, EuroStar and ICE trains compete directly with the continental airlines and offer some things they can’t: Inner city destinations making final destinations a lot closer, vehicle room with a lot more on-board amenities, and public transit links orders of magnitude better than over here.”

    That is precisely what we have to present to our CRD politicians and the E&N terminus did that for us until Mayor Fortin and Council closed out our option with their decision to replace the Blue Bridge with one that does not include rail. Not yet, that is! We (IslandTransformations.Org) and the Johnson Street Bridge Group are trying to Victoria Council to reverse that decision!

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 20, 2011 at 6:14 pm

  27. Perhaps we should ask Stephen to create a new thread re “Vancouver Island Rail” revival or “Vancouver Island Transportation Options for the 21st Century” with the last few comments and many others that may be generated by the new E&N Railway Action Group.

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm

  28. @Lloyd – one of the great advantages of having one’s own blog is that there is only one person who gets to decide what it is about, and what gets into it. Which is, of course, me. The blog is a way for me to bring my concerns to the attention of others in a way that – before I found out about blogging – I could not do.

    There are references in this blog to the E&N and Light Rail for Victoria. I did spend nearly three years of my life in Victoria – and I still welcome the opportunity to visit every so often. My son was at UVic, for a while. The Green Party has an AGM there now and again. And I have visited other parts of the island more often now than I did when I lived there.

    While I let the comments section pretty much run itself – we have only had one or two really serious run-ins with trolls – the articles are,mostly, by me. Now and again I will see something that I think needs to be given space here.

    And you have your own blog which links here just by clicking on your name next to your comments

    So on the whole I do not see that the creation of a new thread here is needed.

    Does anyone have anything to say about the elasticity of demand for ferries with respect to fares?

    Stephen Rees

    December 20, 2011 at 6:37 pm

  29. Thank you Stephen for that perspective on blogs, and for highlighting (inviting) all who wish to comment on general rail or tram matters to consider doing so on the ITO “home” page; or, with respect to the E&N, to do so on their blog page:

    Lloyd Skaalen

    December 20, 2011 at 8:50 pm

  30. Roger, it was my understanding that the passenger service was suspended last spring ( and the deteriorating condition of the R-O-W (or more specifically. the rails and ties) were the reason. The line has been two streaks of rust running through weeds for decades now…. and isn’t going to get any better by itself. The Northbound in AM, southbound in PM schedule was useful only for tourists staying in Victoria who wanted a trip for the trip’s sake, the two Budd cars would have been more useful as two separate trains, one based in Victoria, one in Courtenay.

    re Nanaimo sprawl… I look at a satellite photo and remember that this was mostly bush in 1978… Not to get political, but maybe the Barrett goverment’s forced amalgamation in the mid 70s (as in Kamloops, and Kelowna) had unintended consequences.

    The Other David

    December 20, 2011 at 10:44 pm

  31. re ferry fares… as someone who grew up living on the island in the 60s and 70s, then an expatriate islander living on the Lower Mainland in the 80s and 90s with parents on the island, the actual fare did not affect travel plans…it just costs what it costs…. in the 80s it was usually the 250 Blue bus to Horseshoe Bay, and picked up by the parents in Nanaimo. In the 90s, with gainful employment, I’d take the car. I

    n the 2000s, with Mum and Dad gone, trips have only been for funerals and high school reunions (and as part of trips on the Queen of the North to Prince Rupert, and the Queen of Chilliwack from Bella Coola to Port Hardy via Ocean Falls, et al).. but those were ‘destination’ trips; the fare on the Horseshoe Bay / Departure Bay was insignificant compared to the fare on the ‘cruises’…. For mainland tourists, who are headed to the island for a vacation, the cost of accommodation in Victoria or Tofino for a few nights far outweighs the differences between a $80 ferry ride and a $60 ferry ride, I’d imagine.

    This just in… Duke Point closed due to a hard landing… plus ça change…

    The Other David

    December 20, 2011 at 11:03 pm

  32. Well waddaja know! Thanqxz for the pic TOD!

    I was on the Black Ball (or had BCF taken over, I can’t remember) Chinook, shown in your pic, stranded on Snake Island: entrance to Dep Bay.

    But it wasn’t 1947: more like 1960! We were in an early morning fog and told the radar was in for maintenance: we couldn’t see 10′ ahead.

    A bunch of us consultants were on our way to do the rounds at the, under construction, NRGH.

    We were ordered to don life jackets.

    Were were taken off at the stern by a tug. The water on the east shore of Snake is deep in contrast to west side strewn with rocks and shallows: how well I know my boat has a 4′ keel!

    Thanqxz again TOD: this pic goes into my archives!

    BTW: Chinookll looks streamlined and modern but really it was an old clunker.

    Roger Kemble

    December 21, 2011 at 4:56 am

  33. “Does anyone have anything to say about the elasticity of demand for ferries with respect to fares?”

    I suppose fares are tied to a number of things, Stephen, such as the cost of fuel (hence the tangent to peak oil). Fuel surcharges are a big thing now in transportation economies, of which ferries and airlines are big cogs. The fuel surcharges haven’t stopped me because I’m not a frequent flyer or floater. But I can see them covering a range in future, from modest but steady increases (affecting those who aren’t able to write them off against an expense account) to outrageous (all it takes is one 10-minute terrorist attack on a primary refinery in Saudi Arabia … or a couple of missiles lobbed over the Persian Gulf by Iran).

    Now that would affect demand big time, and a lot of other things too.


    December 21, 2011 at 9:26 am

  34. We know from the cited research that ferry fares have an elasticity of -0.28 on the major routes. So a 10% increase in fares produces a 2.8% drop in use. The idea that a fares cut can actually produce more revenue due to increased ridership is, I think, misplaced. There is some discretionary travel, but not vast amounts, and the cross elasticity for car drivers with gas prices is probably more important.

    However, for those looking for a good reason to visit the Island the Globe and Mail has an attractive piece on the microbreweries of the southern Island. Use transit to and from the ferry and taxis while in Victoria for the trip back to your accommodation. Cheaper than the storm watching package deal currently on offer for Tofino and Unclulet and much less driving.

    Happy Christmas – or whatever you call prefer to call it!

    Stephen Rees

    December 21, 2011 at 10:51 am

  35. THE OTHER DAVID I can only speak for the E&N track along the Nan line and I am no expert. For sure the rails are shiny from usage and definitely not over grown: I have a project along side the tracks.

    The passenger Bud was running last summer: I didn’t record from what month to month.

    A tanker freight train just passed a couple of hours ago: I am enough of a trainey to look up when the whistle blows.

    Definitely the tracks are used here.

    Quite a bit of cash has been expended on the Nan station so someone has long range plans . . .

    Roger Kemble

    December 21, 2011 at 12:02 pm

  36. VIA passenger service on the E&N has ceased. To confirm that try entering any of the station names on the route on the journey booking facility on VIA rail’s web page

    Stephen Rees

    December 21, 2011 at 12:19 pm

  37. @Roger, the ‘1947’ in the URL likely refers to the Chinook’s launch date, to distinguish her from other vessels named “Chinook”. The Snake Island incident was in 1962, not long after BC Ferries took over Black Ball’s Nanaimo, Bowen Island, and Sunshine Coast routes and boats in December 1961. Fog and no radar was a bad combination.

    If you think the Chinook looks streamlined, she looked even better before her bow was cut off to become a front – end loader… This site has a 5 page photo essay, from when the Chinook was an overnight Seattle-Vancouver ferry, to the scrapyard in the Gulf of Mexico.

    (apologies to Stephen for wandering off topic)

    The Other David

    December 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm

  38. @ The Other David,

    Yes the Chinook grounding: ’62. Very interesting historic link. Thanqxz for the heads-up.

    Roger Kemble

    December 22, 2011 at 5:10 am

  39. I’m just back from vacation, which included a trip to Victoria. We rode a Coastal class ferry for the first time (returning via Swartz Bay). I’m glad to report the Pacific Buffet service was extended to these vessels. The vessel was quieter than the Spirit class ferries, though smaller. My guess is they needed a mid-size ferry between the Spirit and Queen classes, but it’s still very much a floating traffic jam. The PB and passenger lounges were only half full, but of course this was a weekday just outside of a peak holiday season.

    Lloyd, I walked the Victoria inner harbour waterfront a couple of times and appreciate the real estate challenge of squeezing in a new train station and passenger ferry terminal anywhere there. Though there are a few individual sites where they could be located, it makes sense to put the trains and ferries together at a primary terminus and connect it to municipal transit. The existing chalet station at the east end of the Johnson St bridge is only a glorified shack – albeit a really nice one – and would be horrendously inadequate for a trans-island passenger rail service expected to replace private cars travelling the Island Highway in the coming decades. I suggest the existing site at Pandora x Store St is too small for the trains of the future, and therein will have to relocate. The trains could feasibly avoid using the Johnson St bridge, but a new bridge will have to be built further up the harbour if Victoria is to be served, and part of the bridge may have to lift to allow marine traffic through.

    This makes the lands north of Herald St near Capital Iron – and the waterfront at Rocky Bay — very interesting. There are at least six industrial blocks where a couple could feasibly be rezoned to a better, more intensive use as a major terminus hub for rail passenger service. Add the adjacent heavy industrial waterfront site at Store x Discovery streets (or possibly the Lafarge site), and the marine connection makes this idea very dynamic. Secondary and tertiary light rail and buses could service the hub from several arterials like Government and Douglas. The ferries would have to pass under the Johnson St bridge and possibly a new rail bridge perhaps 200 metres north with a lifting span to access its dock at the terminal. The railway alignment would follow the existing R/W through Esquimalt up to the western end of the blue bridge, then swoop up onto an elevated guideway / bridge along Harbour Rd (will unfortunately affect the next phase of Harbour Green) then over the inlet to Store St. Another alignment would place an elevated guideway on Bay St north of Esquimalt Rd and a bridge parallel to the south side of the Point Ellice bridge and over to Store St. This alignment may not require a lifting centre span because it is at the northern extent of the active industrial waterfront.

    Food for thought.


    January 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm

  40. I’m posting a link below to the CRD Web Atlas with very good orthophoto and property information (requires Silverlight). You can see the vacant land bordering Victoria’s inner harbour, and it’s potential and relatively central location.

    For sime reason I can see a large public market being associated with Victoria Station.


    January 9, 2012 at 2:11 pm

  41. Thank you MB, those are interesting observations about the downtown options for the E&N; at the moment, I think our (ITO) efforts are to secure a CRD decision to keep rail on the Johnson Street Bridge and to terminate the run at a new combined transit terminal just east of Douglas on Pandora; which of course means that anyone destined to/from ferries would transfer at that point and North to Airport, etc, or South to Black Ball and Ogden Point terminals.

    If the final decision is negative for rail on the bridge, there will be no other option than to go east over the Bay St bridge to a terminal at the intersection of Douglas and Bay.

    Brendan Read, with 30 years experience in Island railroading, has some views on these options too and has already written to Graham Bruce with some suggestions for the whole E&N upgrade. Perhaps we can get him engaged here too, even though this is supposed to be about ferry fares?

    Lloyd Skaalen

    January 9, 2012 at 3:47 pm

  42. @ MB

    Walk thru Bastion Square . . .

    follow the links to . . .

    Fan Tan alley . . .

    The inner harbor . . .

    . . . Chinatown and downtown . . .

    A delightful experience in summer!

    Roger Kemble

    January 9, 2012 at 4:25 pm

  43. Roger, yes, Fan Tan Alley is a delight, unless you’re one of two overweight people trying to pass each other. The pedestrian experience in Victoria’s historic core is very cool. And I don’t mind it in winter either when the tourists have thinned out.

    I thank the stars that Munro’s Books on Government has withstood the corporate juggernauts of Chapters and Amazon over the decades, and this is due mostly to the financial commitment of the original owner (former husband of our own great writer Alice Munro) who was also devoted to preserving the character of the old bank building it resides in.

    PS: The salmon burgers at Rebar (Bastion Sq. x Langley) are excellent, but get there before 11:30 to beat the lunch rush.


    January 10, 2012 at 10:38 am

  44. PPS: Fan Tan Stic photos, Roger. Thanks for your contribution on Trounce Alley. Now, if they can only bring back the restaurant they had there 20 years ago. Now I get why you prefer summer on Van Isle — you’re not commuting by ferry or car.


    January 10, 2012 at 10:51 am

  45. @ Lloyd Skaalen, I popped over to your link and read Ross Crockford’s recent piece.

    I agree with much of what he said. I believe, however, that there is some understandable confusion between what constitutes “commuter rail” and what can be widely defined as “light rail.”

    To me the E&N is indeed an exceedingly viable public transportation amenity where a 25-minute Langford-Victoria commute is desirable, and resurrecting the Budd cars is a quick and inexpensive way to get this idea rolling. Over 90% of residents in the western communities agreed in a plebiscite during municipal elections.

    However, I can also see the BC government’s point of view that commuter rail must be addressed island-wide. In that regard, the above proposal would be only a small first step and should not be considered as a separate strategy. Compounding the confusion is the BC Transit plans for regional light rail.

    If senior governments finally come to their senses about the challenges we face this century (that may be a mighty big “if”), then it may be feasible that the ‘Vancouver Island Railway Company’ be established by the public sector to establish a very high quality passenger and freight rail service from Victoria to Campbell River incrementally over a decade using the E&N corridor. Commuter rail would thus be established, but its salient features are widely spaced stations, usually one per large or medium-sized town. Therein I see three stations in greater Victoria on the E&N corridor: Victoria, Esquimalt and Langford with a 30-minute commute tops. Branch lines could be established to Swartz Bay and Sooke.

    What differentiates light rail from commuter rail is lighter vehicles, tighter turning radii and often a tram experience with mixed traffic on the street system. I find your promotion of commuter rail to Douglas via the street system puzzling because of these differences. It may be better to instead bring the tram / light rail from Douglas to the commuter rail station on Store St. Also, the E&N is between 20m and 30m wide, which is ample room for four tracks in places to eventually make provision for two-way traffic for a separate commuter and light rail service. I don’t see up-island commuter rail stopping at the Four Mile, but it should definitely be served by streetcars / trams / light rail. I would also make appropriate human-scaled urban design mandatory for any community served by these major public transit upgrades.

    Moreover, commuter rail must in all cases be linked to ferry terminals, including the inevitable future passenger-only ferries from the mainland. This pedestrian link must form part of our water and rail transportation planning if we are going to respond adequately to diminishing our fossil fuel use as prices escalate, potentially in huge spikes. In that regard, a commuter rail plan should accommodate an inner harbour connection with passenger ferries (harbour-to-harbour, Vancouver to both Victoria and Nanaimo). Putting a passenger ferry berth at Swartz Bay doesn’t eliminate the 25 km commute to the city where everybody is going anyway. This is why I find the relatively open industrial land between Government and the inner harbour so interesting with respect to its potential. And it’s not that far from Douglas.

    In other words, Victoria Station should be like Vancouver’s Waterfront Station which accommodates local marine transport (SeaBus) as well as two rapid transit lines, commuter rail (West Coast Express) and buses. It may eventually become a terminus for a continental high-speed rail network, and a major passenger ferry terminal to the Island at that location would be vital.

    In the above light, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in the Johnson Street bridge basket. The land base is inadequate. A decent VIRC service deserves its own bridge.


    January 12, 2012 at 1:01 pm

  46. Thank you MB. Your comprehensive suggestions will be helpful for all who are now wrestling with the short term fix for the Colwood Crawl and the long term transit objectives for transformation of the entire Island. If the Premier would act promptly on our mutual suggestion of a Transportation Authority, we could get on with developing a coherent system! I will share your recommendations with the members of IslandTransformations, the E&N Action Group and with Ross Crockford.

    Lloyd Skaalen

    January 13, 2012 at 9:29 am

  47. By the way, are you the MB associated with i,e, Transport Action BC? if so, may I place you on the updates on activities of IslandTransformations.Org ?

    Lloyd Skaalen

    January 13, 2012 at 1:44 pm

  48. Lloyd, sorry, that’s not me, but thanks for the link.

    Please feel free to use these ideas. I aim to put these and other thoughts into research and postings (with graphics) one day. Whether that’s a web site or a blog is undecided. Mind you, moderating commentators may not be my cuppa tea.

    I love the Island and especially Victoria, and I think the great future potential of the E&N corridor shuoldn’t be obvious to folks like you and I.

    I’d just like to reiterate that the major Island rail stations should link with the ferries, preferably passenger ferries. Marine transport is as much of the Island economy, history and culture as the E&N.


    January 17, 2012 at 4:29 pm

  49. We (IslandTransformations.Org) will do our best to prompt such changes MB; All in CRD are now being urged to participate in a Victoria Region survey of funding options for the proposed LRT project (you will find that option at:
    Perhaps you might be tempted to submit your own plan, or send it to us in a brown envelope?


    January 17, 2012 at 4:46 pm

  50. Lloyd, thanks once again for an informative link. I’m not sure what to suggest w/r/t funding rail transit in Greater Victoria in the presence of a provincial government more interested in road politics. Yes, they funded a good share of rapis transit in Metro Vancouver, but it’s only a fraction of what they put into freeways over here. Moreover, roads are funded a lot faster than transit because transit is seen as more of a “luxury.”

    Kevin Falcon demanded to see the business plan of proponents to upgrade the E&N, yet the “business plan” he put out as the main proponent for Vancouver’s horrendously expensive gateway freeway system was full of holes. Now the fellow is that Minister of Finance and is facing relatively short-term revenue shortfalls and thus larger deficits.

    To me it’s obvious: (i) rearrange / reprioritize / reallocate a portion of existing funds from roads and car carrying ferries to rails, buses and passenger-only ferries, and devote a portion of the revenue from the carbon tax to transit; (ii) capture a portion of the profits from new developments stimulated by new transit projects, but place limits on this to maintain equitable partnerships with private developers; (iii) increase local + regional revenues with transit levies on fossil fuels, sales taxes and property taxes, but do these as minimally as possible (see (i)); (iv) vote for a different federal government, one that actually cares about the future; (v) do a bit of elementary research into the economic ramifications of NOT doing any of the above in the face of higher fossil fuel prices and climate change.

    That’s my two cents worth.


    January 18, 2012 at 10:05 am

  51. “…but it’s only a fraction of what they put into freeways over here.”

    Perhaps that’s not entirely correct from a provincial funding standpoint, but it would be when all costs are accounted for car infrastructure + subsidies versus transit.


    January 18, 2012 at 10:08 am

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