All it takes for Barry Hobbis to realize the value in his company’s Baseline commuter ferry service is to drive back to town from Colwood during morning rush hour.
Hobbis, founder and vice-president of operations for the West Bay Marina-based Victoria Harbour Ferry Inc., has occasion to check on things at Baseline’s West Shore dock at D jetty on Department of National Defence land.
“It’s been bumper-to-bumper just trying to get back to my office downtown,” he says. “It still amazes me that that kind of traffic exists. And it continues to get worse.”
Baseline was introduced in May as a private venture, when CFB Esquimalt cancelled its Blue Boat shuttle for naval and Dockyard personnel who live on the West Shore. The company recently expanded its service to include Victoria Shipyards workers, instituting runs leaving Colwood at 5:40 and 5:50 a.m. to accommodate the early shifts.
Baseline’s daily passenger load has grown to more than 500, without being open to the general public. Currently, all passengers must have DND security clearance.
“Studies have shown that 48 per cent of (base and shipyards workers) live on the West Shore,” Hobbis says.
Of the company’s three 40-passenger boats, two operate continually and the third is used when the demand calls for it. That has been more often lately, as the popularity of the service grows. With Seaspan due to ramp up its operations soon at the Esquimalt Graving Dock, more capacity will be needed, Hobbis says.
“We have to be very aware of capacity,” he says. “The last thing we want to do is leave people standing on the dock.”
The company has been actively looking for a larger boat for the past six months, in places as far flung as Texas and Greece. “They’re everywhere,” Hobbis says.
While the Colwood Crawl – a more appropriate name might be the West Shore Wait – continues to fuel calls for light rail and other forms of rapid transit, the success of the water commuter service makes more and more sense, he adds.
“In terms of future transportation modes, I think we’ll recognize even more so that water is the way to travel when you live on an Island,” Hobbis says.
Victoria Harbour Ferry is also among the groups looking into possible commuter service from the Royal Bay development in Colwood to downtown Victoria.
Hobbis says cities such as New York, Boston and Seattle recognize that using the water to create “connecting points” for commuters can reduce road congestion.