BC Ferries uses its Coastal-class ferries on the Nanaimo-Horseshoe Bay route

UPDATE: Nanaimo will keep two ferry terminals

Transportation Minister Todd Stone reverses course after objections from Vancouver Island MLAs Michelle Stilwell and Don McRae

Transportation Minister Todd Stone has backed away from a proposal by BC Ferries that it should consolidate its two Nanaimo ferry terminals, after objections from B.C. Liberal MLAs on both sides of the route.

Stone said Tuesday that BC Ferries should consider whether it still needs both ferry terminals at Nanaimo, a legacy of the NDP government’s decision in the 1990s to build Duke Point. BC Ferries calculates that its Nanaimo runs have higher costs and lower ridership than the main Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay run that serves Victoria.

But on Wednesday, Stone ruled out that possibility.

“I indicated yesterday that while we weren’t endorsing or supporting the idea, it may be worthy of consideration,” Stone said by phone from Regina Wednesday. “Over the last 24 hours, I’ve had some very good conversations with my Island colleagues, Don McRae (Comox Valley) and Michelle Stilwell (Parksville-Qualicum) as well as my pariliamentary secretary Jordan Sturdy (West Vancouver-Sea to Sky). They’ve made some very strong and eloquent arguments to me that they don’t believe closing one of the two terminals at Nanaimo would be a good thing, not just for the economy of Nanaimo, but potentially the economy of the mid-Island.”

However, the completion of the South Fraser Perimeter Road through Delta and expensive refits required at the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal in North Vancouver could result in a shift of some mainland-to-Nanaimo ferry traffic to the Tsawwassen terminal in the coming years.

BC Ferries has released a new major route strategy that proposes ending the Horseshoe Bay-Nanaimo run and putting the traffic on the Tsawwassen-Duke Point route, which has had sailings cut due to low usage.

Stone also ruled out BC Ferries’ suggestion to consider a passenger-only ferry from Departure Bay in downtown Nanaimo to Horseshoe Bay.

Horseshoe Bay has congestion problems on the water as well as on land, where vehicles line up along the highway before stacking up in a two-level “transfer deck” to board the ship. That dock structure is due for replacement at an estimated cost of $200 million.

Horseshoe Bay terminal also serves the Sunshine Coast via Langdale and a third run to Bowen Island with smaller vessels. BC Ferries CEO Mike Corrigan compares it to an airport with only one runway, with ferries lining up to a terminal that can only load and unload one at a time.

Tsawwassen has multiple berths that can handle simultaneous loading and unloading.

Both Stone and Corrigan emphasized that BC Ferries has to look beyond tinkering with under-used routes to keep fare increases in check.

“This is a longer-term project,” Corrigan told CKNW radio. “It’s not something we’re going to do overnight.”