CFB Esquimalt looks to new transportation options

Private ferry, carpool-share options being considered to mitigate Blue Boat cancellation

Navy Capt. Craig Baines

With the impending termination of CFB Esquimalt’s Blue Boat service, base officials are exploring alternative solutions that could pick up where the shuttle leaves 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 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. “I’m really excited.”

The Blue Boat service saw  daily ridership of close to 400 people when two boats were on duty. That has dropped by 35 per cent since mid-January when one of the vessels was removed for maintenance.

Baines said he can’t budge on his decision to cancel the service. The number of civilian personnel who operate the boats is declining, largely due to attrition, and those remaining are needed to operate the base’s tugs and barges, for example. “There is zero discretion. 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 want to offer a park ‘n ride busing service. There is space for between 350 and 500 vehicles.

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

“We don’t know how many (Blue Boat users) will become (bus) riders,” said  Meribeth Burton of B.C. Transit. “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 that Treasury Board regulations prevent public funds from being spent on transporting federal employees to and from work, the base can’t shell out any money to help B.C. Transit or hire more employees to keep the Blue Boat shuttle going.

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

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

The base plans to 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.

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