Ask Pat: Q2Q Ferry

I am a little behind on my Ask Pats, I apologize. there are a few in the queue, but work, life, and an amazing array of community events have kept me away from the computer keyboard. I’ll try to catch up.

BoatRidesAreFun asks—

Hi Pat,

Any updates on the Q2Q ferry that was supposed to open July 1? I haven’t seen anything happening at either of the docks.

The ferry has been a challenge. This is one of those times I am glad I am an Elected Type setting unreasonable expectations for staff, and not City Staff trying to meet the unreasonable expectations of the elected types!

The good news is the the trial is ready to go, and will be starting this weekend. The Ferry will run on weekends and holiday Mondays in August and September from 9:00am to 7:00pm, and from 5:00pm to 9:00pm every Friday in August. It will run every 20 minutes, and will cost a Loonie or a Twoonie. The route will be from the Quay (near the Inn) to the public dock on the south side of Port Royal. The bad news is that the limitations of the project as a “pilot” will mean it falls short of some expectations, and that could benefit from some background explanation, so I am glad you asked.

Running a passenger ferry turns out to be a much more complicated process than you may think. You need a boat and operator, you need (at least) two places for it to dock, and you need permission from several different agencies responsible for keeping people from drowning as a result of poor planning.

The first issue was surprisingly hard to solve. The Fraser River is a dynamic, working waterway. There are tides reaching 9 feet in range, and tidal and river currents that flow in different directions up to 10 knots. These currents shift lots of hazardous debris like large logs. There are also tugs, barges, and large ships moving around the river. The little tubs used to shuffle tourists around the relatively safe tidewater of False Creek were not going to work on the Fraser. Something more skookum (to use the nautical term) was required. The more requirements the City put on a boat (number of passengers, weather protection, accessibility, room for bicycles, operating cost), the more limited the number of available boats just sitting round BC waiting for hire.

Then we need two places to dock the boat. Installing a new dock facility in tidewater in Canada is not a simple process, as it activates everyone from the local Port Authority to the Marine Carriers and environmental agencies including the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. For a short-term trial, the City really needed to find already-existing docks.

Ferry_Map(1)

The public dock at Port Royal was there and available, but designed for small pleasure craft, not to accommodate a passenger ferry. Significant changes would intrude into water lots owned by Port Metro Vancouver, who were helpful and accommodating, but had their own safety and operational concerns that had to be addressed. On the Quay side, the only functional docks are operated by the Inn at the Quay (where the paddlewheeler tours launch from) and the industrial dock operated my Smit. Again, both had challenges with accommodating their established operations with a new every-20-minutes group of passengers, many of whom are not that accustomed to walking around industrial marine operations, and who will create no end of hassles if they fall into the drink and get dragged downstream. Again, a deal was worked out and operational concerns managed.

At this point, City Staff need to be acknowledged for managing a significant number of potential game-stoppers here, but in the compromises required to make this work are the inherent flaws in the final plan. During this summer, we are going to have the trial ferry service that was possible, not necessarily the one we want.

When I think about connecting the Quay to Queensborough, I am not thinking of it as a tourist draw or a piece of recreation programming, I am thinking of it as a vital transportation link. To be such a link, it need to be reliable, available for daily users, and fully accessible. The trial ferry is going to fall short of this. The high tide range and reliance on existing dock infrastructure means it will not be fully accessible to those with some mobility challenges at all tide stages. Running the ferry only on weekends with limited hours means it will not be useful for work commuters wanting to get from Port Royal to Downtown or Skytrain. The limited hours will further cause people crossing the river for diner and a drink to look closely at their watches while waiting for the bill to arrive. The City recognizes these limitations, but also recognizes the value of getting this project running to see how the public reacts.

In the end, I hope people will appreciate this is a test-of-concept trial, and not the ultimate solution to connecting Queensborough to the Quay. Its successes may be limited, but there has already been a lot learned by the City just in setting up the service, and there will be much learned during its limited run, both in it’s success and where it falls short of expectations. I hope that people on both sides of the North Arm will come out to support this pilot, and provide your constructive feedback to the City, so that we have useful info to inform planning for a more permanent solution.

7 comments on “Ask Pat: Q2Q Ferry

  1. Thanks for answering the question Pat. I had a blast on the ferry this weekend heading to food truck fest, breakfast at the Quay and grocery shopping. It was busier than I thought it would be.

    I’m actually surprised the city got it up and running as quick as it did. Now that we have been given a taste, you’re not going to be able to take it away from us!

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