Oh, the island…

April 2, 2010 at 6:04 pm | In just_so, local_not_global, vancouver_island, victoria | 5 Comments

The theme of the day is choice, or lack of it. Choice(s) in traveling, choice(s) in getting from point A to point B. Turns out, our choices are getting more and more curtailed, and when bad weather strikes, they’re practically wiped out.

Let’s look at money-related choices… Now that BC Ferries has jacked up its fares once again, it’s becoming very dear to get on and off “the island” (Vancouver Island, that is).

The fare between the cities of Victoria (on “the island”) and Vancouver (on “the mainland”) for an adult walk-on or vehicle passenger ticket is now $14. And a regular passenger vehicle (without driver) is $46.75, which makes a car and driver ticket come to $60.75.

That’s one-way, of course. Return costs $121.50. And if you’ve got a couple of passengers, your fare just jumped to about $180.

Yikes – and this, for what was supposed to be our “highway” connection to the mainland: the ferry system seems practically designed for cars and drivers, but at those prices, it’s hardly affordable. The trip takes a long time, too, not because the crossing is long (only 90 minutes), but because BC Ferries wants you there long before the ferry departs, even if you have a reservation (which costs more money, incidentally).

The “choices” offered by BC Ferries are not satisfactory. The choices, such as they are, consist of being able to choose between a buffet or a cafeteria once you’re on board, and soon you’ll be able to enjoy a massage, pedicure, or manicure during the 90-minute crossing.

But that’s not the sort of consumer choice I had in mind. I’m looking for more choices in rates and in crossing options.

Right now, everything centers on very large car ferries. Not much choice for getting to the ferry terminals efficiently if you’re not driving, either. One private bus service has a monopoly, and the public bus service takes forever.

I didn’t really intend to bitch about BC Ferries, but it’s top of mind right now since that’s what the daughter ended up taking in the wake of flight cancellations. Since she only has a short weekend to visit us at home, we opted to get her over here on the downtown-harbor-to-downtown-harbor float plane service (considerably more expensive than the ferry, but also only 35 minutes travel time). But during the night, a significant windstorm moved into our area, and poof!, that grounded the float planes.

It also did a number on the ferries. Everything got delayed, and her trip from Vancouver to Victoria ended up taking seven hours, all told.

As a student, she does get a much better rate on the ferry-and-bus combination she opted for, so the money isn’t the point.

Rather, it’s the hassle of getting on and off “the rock” (that’s the other name we have for this place), and it’s the absence of choice(s).

The choice(s) that do exist are getting dearer all the time: for convenient flights, it’s $149 per person for a one-way float plane ticket; some deals are possible if taking the fixed-wing aircraft from airport to airport, but generally, it’s a pricey proposition to fly, especially for a family. And as I wrote, the ferry rates keep going up, with more trivial choice(s) within the existing ferry system (buffet v. cafeteria; manicure or pedicure, etc.), but no choice(s) at all over the actual ferry mode – it’s all the same type and style of ferries. For what we pay, there should be more options.

As for the weather: well, there’s no choice about that. Storms are like atmospheric earthquakes that last for hours, and this one was at least an 8.0. But at least the ground held firm, even if the skies shook.


  1. It’s a problem for families – also for business and tourism. A client has been looking at importing farm goods for a market stall from Abbotsford, but the shipping costs over the last year having risen nearly 10%. Same is largely true for another who runs a B+B, some guests are shortening or cancelling trips once they see the Ferry fares.

    We used to do a Vancouver run every two months to see family. No longer. In 2005 three of us and a car was around $105 return – now it’s over $180!

    Of course, I would love to blame the weather on BCF!

    Comment by Mat — April 2, 2010 #

  2. A quick check online of the many private options for crossing the English Channel from Dover to Calais shows a rate of $28 for a foot passenger, however, it appears a car and driver can cross for at little as $43 CDN.

    Comment by robert randall — April 2, 2010 #

  3. I think the expense (in conjunction with inflexibility and absence of choice) does have a negative and “artificial-izing” effect on our economy. Negative, because it keeps goods, services, and people from flowing freely back and forth. “Artificial-izing,” because only a certain class of professionals can really afford to use the “puddle jumpers” (float planes) with any sort of regularity. Those professionals are likely to be in the public sector / bureaucrats / government employees, who fly on expense accounts. Since their work doesn’t have actual productive value in the economy, though, their use of the service also fails to have an effect in the economy at large. The service stays the same, exempt from innovation as well as competition. Just my 2-cents.
    Re. the Channel crossing: interesting, that car & driver are so much cheaper. And it’s a longer crossing, isn’t it? (Haven’t done it in years, but seem to recall a couple of hours, at least.)

    Comment by Yule — April 3, 2010 #

  4. I went to school at UVIC and my parents live on Bowen Island. I rarely went home, because it took a total of 7 hours if one took public transit the whole way.

    I usually take the float plane, because my time is worth it to me (whether traveling for business or pleasure). Besides public sector employees, tech & legal professionals are the other folks that I recall seeing on a regular basis.

    And of course, a trip to Seattle, Portland, or San Francisco is only a couple of hundred dollars more, make those better “partner cities” than Vancouver.

    Comment by Boris Mann — April 3, 2010 #

  5. ^ When I went to Vancouver for the day on my daughter’s 16th birthday (I met her for lunch), I took the float plane. I saw 3 people I know on the way to Vancouver (one public sector employee, one high-tech entrepreneur, one architect), and on the way back (same day) I again saw the entrepreneur and the public sector employee – so, yes, tech & legal professionals definitely round out the cast of characters, Boris. (On the return flight, we were squished into the plane – all seats taken – and I was wedged between mostly public sector peeps checking their Blackberries, in clear contravention of the “turn off your cell phones” admonition…)
    I have to add I couldn’t wait to get off the freaking plane – it’s loud and it’s smelly. It would not be my preferred way to travel. I’d love to have another “vomit comet” (as the passenger-only catamarans were dubbed) running between downtown Victoria and downtown Vancouver. On fair-weather days those boats would be a nice, but speedy, alternative.
    When the weather is crap, count your blessings if you have the luxury of staying put, I guess…
    As for trips to PDX, SFO, or SEA: at least we do have more and more direct flights coming on line for the YYJ/Victoria to SFO and SEA runs. So far, the PDX option isn’t available, but it’s going to happen.
    Geography is geography, though, and even Vancouver isn’t immune, as Wes Reagan pointed out. It’s a trade-off all around, no magic wands in view! 😉

    Comment by Yule — April 3, 2010 #

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