A new ferry service might alleviate Malahat congestion.
Dogwood Ferries is a new operation, wanting to run a ferry between Pat Bay and Cowichan Bay via a potential new terminal in North Saanich near the Victoria International Airport.
CEO Dylan Hildebrand, a resident of Maple Bay, said the ferry is meant to connect the Saanich-area with the Cowichan area and its surroundings, and make travel times more predictable. He said with growth in the Victoria-area and the West Shore, the Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan areas are slowly being cut off by congestion.
“We’re becoming two islands; we just can’t get there from here, and we don’t believe the highway infrastructure will ever catch up to the growth we’re experiencing,” said Hildebrand.
Negotiations with various parties are ongoing.
He, along with partners Trevor Small and Jessica Castle, have experience with battery-powered vessels and operate a marine consulting company. He said the plan is to start in 2020 with a car/passenger ferry, with the hope of shifting the ratio to favour passengers over cars as time goes on. Eventually, an electric boat is the goal.
Hildebrand and his partners have been working seriously on the proposal for the last six months, starting with the idea of a passenger-only ferry. Although they like the idea, they found public transportation wouldn’t be ready in time. A car/passenger ferry was deemed more practical, but more costly, but he said they can shift gradually to increase the number of walk-on passengers versus cars.
The route would take about 45 minutes, and the plan would be to run it back and forth from early in the morning until well after dinner time.
The ferry would travel through the territorial waters of the Tseycum and Cowichan Tribes, so negotiations are ongoing there as well. The company says they have signed a Letter of Friendship with the Tseycum, and hope to mostly employ people from the First Nation.
“We can’t go forward and do a good job without them involved.”
Meanwhile, Central Saanich councillor Zeb King introduced a Notice of Motion for the next council meeting to ask the Minister of Transportation, Claire Trevena, to double the sailings of the existing Mill Bay-Brentwood Bay ferry.
The fate of the ferry was not always certain. In the mid-2000s, BC Ferries were considering the future of the route, and considering selling it to a private company, but only one responded with a plan. During that time, King said “every year we had basically a festival for the ferry in Verdier Park by the ferry.” “Ferry Fairies” were even there, rallying to keep the ferry.
“Even at that time, there wasn’t a good argument for getting rid of it because it’s been popular,” said King, adding it’s the second-highest volume in the fleet.
His Notice of Motion was precipitated by the accident on the Malahat on May 24, but when he saw the Premier’s suggestion that a bridge was one of several possibilities, King wanted to reinforce the transit and ferry connections. During the accident, the Route 75 bus that typically goes down Verdier had to be diverted. Central Saanich has asked Trevena and the BC Transit chair Catherine Holt if instead, BC Transit could reverse the route to travel down Marchant Road and up Verdier to prevent interruption.
Now, King wants Central Saanich to write to the province asking if they would add another ferry to the route, doubling the runs so one ferry doesn’t handle it all. The route has been running for decades, since the 1920s, and “clearly the Peninsula was much different in that era than it is now,” and “I don’t think we’ve kept up with the size to match growth in population,” said King.
“This isn’t going to solve all problems, but I think it’s one of a bunch of options that should be considered.”
The discussion to date, said King, has also missed one point: it is a connection for Indigenous communities, too.
“It’s essentially a school bus that come from the Malahat side and go to school at Tsartlip First Nation or have to return home from school. They live on the other side of the inlet but they can catch that ferry.
“It’s long past time that we consider at least a twinning,” said King.