Car subsidies

Ferries are essential to British Columbia, but are a good example of car subsidies.

 ยท 2 min read
 ยท Andy McKay

British Columbia has lots of islands and ferries are the main way to connect up communities. Ferry terminals are placed in interesting locations, based on distance to the destination and being suitable for a harbour. The cost, time, fuel and staff to drive a ferry a longer distance, repeatedly every sailing is prohibitively costly and inefficient.

Conside Salt Spring Island which has 11,635 residents over 182.7km2 and has three ferry terminals for cars and trucks: Vesuvius, Fulford Harbour and Long Harbour.

As an example, the ferry from Crofton to Vesuvius (on the west of the island) would be roughly 5 times as long if it went around to Long Harbour (around the top to the east side) 1.

The prioritization in terminal placement, and the subsequent building of legacy car infrastructure has left us with an unfortunate legacy, it's really hard to take active transportation to the terminals to catch the ferries. Worst of all is trying to get to Tsawwassen ferry terminal which is around a 2 hour bus ride from Vancouver or a really horrible bike ride 2. Horseshoe Bay is a congested area, full of cars, dominated by trying to fit one of the busiest ferry terminals onto a mountain side.

Recently the BC Government subsidised again BC Ferries and ferries are an important part of our infrastructure, but this is most definitely an infrastructure aimed at cars and trucks.

Once upon a time I took a train from Germany to Sweden and the train just happily rolled onto the ferry, crossed the sea and rolled off at the other end. All I had to do was fall asleep on the train as it whisked me across land and sea.

As taxpayers we continue to subsidise ferries, which are catered to car drivers, without thinking about ferries that can:

  • Transport people, instead of vehicles.
  • Provide transportation routes to ferry terminals.
  • Place terminals near population centers.

Smaller ferries, with more people in would be cheaper to run and easier to dock at places like Downtown Victoria or Vancouver. These have been tried in the past as private enterprises and have failed, for a multitude of reasons, the simplest being that cars move so much faster over land than ferries do over sea. But if you move beyond cars moving people around, you can start to find alternatives.

Good public transit to our ferry terminals would be a good start.

  1. Although traffic to Long Harbour could possibly move to Fulford, but I'm no expert on the amount of traffic all these ferry routes get. 

  2. Because you can't cycle through Massey tunnel so you have to put your bike on transit, or the free shuttle which runs every hour. Or just cycle along the dangerous and horrendous River Road, Alex Fraser bridge combo. Really it's one of the worst bike rides I've done in the Lower Mainland.