An iconic water taxi approaches Victoria’s Fisherman’s Wharf (Jennifer Blyth/Black Press Media)

Victoria harbour authority, ferries at impasse over operating agreement

June 30 set to be final day for Victoria Harbour Ferry fleet

Waterway travellers will be down a mode of transportation as the Victoria Harbour Ferry docks until further notice.

The Greater Victoria Harbour Authority says the ferry company refused to sign an operating agreement required for insurance and legal purposes. Without that, the small ferries can’t operate on GVHA properties such as the Causeway Marina (at the Inner Harbour in front of the Empress hotel) and Fisherman’s Wharf.

“We regret that the owner has made the decision to suspend operations rather than work with us to sign an agreement. For the past month, our management team had worked with Victoria Harbour Ferry to establish an agreement, without success,” reads a statement from Ian Robertson, CEO of the GVHA.

“As a sign of good faith, we allowed Victoria Harbour Ferry to restart their operations while we worked through the agreement process. We look forward to working with this company when their agreement is signed.”

READ ALSO: Harbour authority CEO charts course for return of cruise ships to post-pandemic Victoria

The causeway and wharf properties make up about 80 per cent of the infrastructure used by the Victoria Harbour Ferry, said owner and managing partner Barry Hobbis.

“I’ll be looking for some people to buy some used boats I guess,” Hobbis said, emotion slipping into his voice during the Friday afternoon phone interview with Black Press Media. Hobbis said he wanted to discuss the latest agreement with the GVHA and come to some “common ground” in the latest terms. Chief among the concerns is the nine-month agreement with no options for renewal and future business planning.

“All I wanted today was an opportunity to discuss the terms and remove the letter of termination until we had discussed the terms,” said Hobbis, who has been with the company 18 of its 30 years.

“As the little guy I have to stand up and say I would rather shut my business down than put a whole bunch of people at risk.”

The GVHA said it has worked to support several commercial tenants during the COVID-19 pandemic, creating rent deferral programs and applying for the Canadian Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program to provide further aid.

The little ferry service started offering limited operations about a month ago, with pandemic protocols in place, and starting the work without an agreement. The GVHA allowed for that, offering a June 30 deadline to sign.

Due to the suspension of cruises in Canada until Oct. 31 the GVHA expects to drop about 70 per cent of its forecasted revenues, or $12.5 million, for the fiscal year.

“For our organization to operate without agreements in place with our commercial tenants only puts us at further risk,” Robertson said.

Hobbis doesn’t see a way forward, with June 30 the last day of operation, but the GVHA is still hopeful to have the little ferries continue charting a course from the causeway.



c.vanreeuwyk@blackpress.ca

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