Envisioning The Future of BC Ferries on the Cortes and Quadra Ferry Routes 

BC Ferries and the BC Ferry Authority have launched a joint visioning initiative called ‘Charting the Course,’ which may help shape the future of this service for years to come. In today’s story, Deborah Marshall, Executive Director for Public Affairs and Marketing for BC Ferries, describes the survey and also answered some specific questions about the Cortes and Quadra Island routes. 

Screenshot of a BC Ferries poster

“People rely on BC Ferries for different needs, but certainly in some of the smaller communities we serve, like Cortes and Quadra, people are relying on our service to get to work, to school and important medical appointments, as well as get their groceries and goods shipped to the island. So we think it’s really important for people to have their say,” she explained.

“There will be two phases. The first phase is an online engagement, and that’s underway right now. That runs until November the 28th. We will report back  to the public in early 2024 and let people know what the first round of engagement indicates.”  

Cortes Currents: I don’t think I’ve ever seen a BC Ferries survey before. Why now?  

Deborah Marshall:  “I know the province did some visioning and engagement several years ago. This is building on that engagement and I believe that took place in 2020.”

When Cortes Currents fact checked this, after our interview, it turned out that BC Ferries has been conducting public surveys along the major routes since 2003. For example, respondents gave the service 4/5 rating for overall satisfaction, running on time and terminal satisfaction etc every year from 2017 until 2022.

Neither Cortes or Quadra Islands were in the survey area. Nor were Comox, Langdale, Port Hardy or any of the other minor routes. If it were not for a heads up from CCEDA’s Economic Development Officer, Kate Maddigan, we probably would not have known about the ‘Charting the Course’ survey this year. (This may be separate from the 2020 Visioning and Engagement exercise that Deborah Marshall referred to.) 

Cortes Currents: There have been some challenges lately in terms of cancelled sailings because of crew shortages and weather and mechanical reasons, etc. What can you tell us about these issues going into 2024 and 2025?

Deborah Marshall: “We do have mechanical issues pop up from time to time. We also have weather events where it is prudent to cancel service until a storm blows through. Over the past couple of years, we have seen incidents where we have had to cancel due to staffing challenges. I do know on the Quadra-Cortes run a 0.4% of sailings were cancelled between July and end of September due to crewing challenges. And on the Campbell River Quadra run, for example, it was 0.5% due to crewing.  Having said that, we know that one sailing cancellation is one too many because we have customers relying on our service and people might have been trying to get to work or trying to get to a medical appointment or something like that. So it is critical that we reduce those crewing challenges altogether.” 

“We’re continuing to address the staffing challenges and the resource challenges. We’re increasing investment in training and development and recruitment of new staff. This year we’ve actually had our largest recruitment campaign ever, and I know to date we’ve hired over 1,200 people throughout the fleet.”

“We continue to have to do that because, as we all know, some people retire, some people leave a company. So we’re having to continuously replenish that human resource pool.” 

Cortes Currents: I like the fact that you publish stats for the cancellations, and the reasons for them, on your website. One thing I noticed looking through the Campbell River-Quadra line was that cancellations because of mechanical issues seem to be decreasing. What can you tell me about that?  

Deborah Marshall: “The past three months, the July through September period, we cancelled 0.2% due to mechanical and the fleet average was actually 0.3%. One thing I think we have to remember with the Campbell River Quadra run, now that we have two island class vessels, we’ve definitely increased the number of sailings on the run.” 

Cortes Currents: Speaking as a passenger from Cortes Island, there used to be an almost guaranteed hour-long-wait at the terminal whenever you caught the Quadra Island-Campbell River Ferry. That has changed. With one exception, when the sailing was delayed for I think it was 3 hours because of high winds, now I’ve either driven right on, or have to wait for half an hour. That is quite an improvement. Do you have stats about this?

Deborah Marshall: “Unfortunately, I don’t have those on time performance stats in front of me or the sailing waits, but that is an important point to note. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to implement this type of two ship service on a run like Campbell River-Quadra, to increase the frequency for our customers.”

“If there are any sailing interruptions for whatever reasons,  we’re able to catch up quicker. In the summertime, for example, when we do see an increase in traffic volumes, we’re able to move that traffic faster than we could before.  We do see those as benefits to our customers, just getting people to where they want to go quicker and in a more efficient manner.”

Cortes Currents: Do you have any more updates on when we’ll get a hybrid e-ferry for Cortes Island?

Deborah Marshall:  “We do have an application to the BC Ferries Commissioner right now, to build four more island class vessels.  Those vessels would be fully electric and the plan would be to put  two of them on the Campbell River-Quadra run and the other two on the Gabriola run.”

“That way we will free up four of our existing hybrid-electric vessels, one of which would be slated for the Cortes run. We expect the new ships to be in service by 2027.  That way we could redeploy ships throughout our minor route system.” 

Cortes Currents: I’m sorry, you said fully electric?

Deborah Marshall: “That would be the plan for the four new vessels that we are planning to build. Those four ships would be fully electric. That is part of our visioning exercise.” 

“We’ve got six goals that are outlined in the visioning exercise: Reliability and convenience, Integrated transportation (that’s aligning with bus networks and in communities that do have that service), Safety, Affordability, Customer experience. One key one there is Environmental Responsibility.  We believe the way to go is with fully electric vessels where it is feasible, but that’s one of the questions that we are posing to the public in this round of engagement. ‘Do our values align with our customer’s values?’” 

“I would encourage anyone who would like to participate, to take the survey online. You can Google BC Ferries ‘Charting The Course.’ There is also a link right on our website.”

Top image credit: Arriving at the Heriot Bay terminal (2017) – Roy L Hales photo

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