Private ferries, buses eyed to replace Blue Boats

With the impending end of CFB Esquimalt’s Blue Boat ferry, base officials are exploring alternatives

With the impending end of CFB Esquimalt’s Blue Boat ferry, base officials are exploring alternatives that could pick up where the service will leave off.

Two Greater Victoria companies have approached the base about providing a private user-pay cross-harbour ferry that would carry military and civilian defence personnel between Colwood and Esquimalt.

“They have to look at the numbers, the timings, the cost for them to run a vessel and to man the vessel. Basically, from a private enterprise perspective, it would all be about whether the service could generate a profit for them or not,” said navy Capt. Craig Baines, commander of CFB Esquimalt.

The Blue Boat service saw a ridership of upwards of 400 people each day through the work week. That has dropped by 35 per cent since mid-January when one of two boats was taken out of service for maintenance.

The base commander said he can’t budge on his decision to cancel the service due to declining numbers of civilian personnel, largely due to attrition, who work on auxiliary fleet vessels. Blue Boat operators are needed to operate base tugs and barges, for example, said Baines.

“There is zero discretion.” Baines said. “Even stretching (the ferry service) to April 30 is having an impact on our folks because it’s difficult for them to take leave.”

The base will also offer the use of two vacant parcels of federal land in Colwood if B.C. Transit or a private bus company wants to offer a park-and-ride bus service. There is space for 350 to 500 vehicles.

But B.C. Transit officials say there is no money in the 2012 budget to extend the No. 25 route to that pick-up spot, or shell out $200,000 a year to put an extra public transit bus on the road to transport defence personnel from that location.

“There are 400 to 600 people taking this Blue Boat,” said B.C. Transit spokesperson Meribeth Burton. “We don’t know how many of them will become B.C. Transit riders. We hope that it’s a majority of them, but it’s a risk that we’re not ready to assume at this time.”

Given the Treasury Board’s regulations that prevent public funds from being spent on getting federal employees to and from work, the base can’t shell out any money to help B.C. Transit or keep the Blue Boat ferry going.

“I can’t do it,” Baines said. “I’d be breaking the law.”

That is why the he is trying to create opportunities for alternative transportation options.

The base will also launch a new carpool matching service on May 1 to connect defence commuters.

Those who use the service and carpool together will be “assigned better parking spots” at the base, Baines said.