Metro column: Ferry boss laments state of maritime travel

22 June 2009 05:35

Just because Ihab Shaker is disenchanted with the state of passenger ferries in Metro Vancouver doesn’t mean he’s planning on sailing away from the region anytime soon.

The owner of Coastal Link Ferries — which serves walk-on commuters between Bowen Island and downtown Vancouver — fumes over the uneven playing field for his privately run service, and the layers of bureaucracy he is constantly up against.

But far from giving up in the face of adversity, the sea captain is gamely expanding his business.

Since the winter, he has tripled the number of sailings between Bowen’s Snug Cove and Vancouver’s Coal Harbour. An upswing in customers has naturally followed.

More recently, according to Shaker, he has reached an agreement with the Port of Vancouver to construct a new, albeit modest, terminal for his ferry between the SeaBus station and the Helijet landing pad on the south shore of Burrard Inlet.

Before the dock deal, Coastal Link had wanted to park its vessel at a previously unused dock at the SeaBus site. But TransLink rebuffed the company’s advances. Instead, that ferry dock is now being used by a whale-watching tour boat. Shaker says that his new facility likely won’t be completed until summer’s end, meaning he will continue to load passengers, less conveniently, at Harbour Green Park.

In the meantime, he asks bitterly, “Why won’t TransLink let me in?”

His frustration goes beyond a dock, mind you. According to Shaker, Metro Vancouver lags behind other cities when it comes to passenger-only ferry service — the SeaBus operation notwithstanding.

“More than Sydney, more than New York, more than Boston, if you look at a map of B.C. you will see that we are the most suitable harbour to have a viable ferry system,” he says.

One of the problems, argues Shaker, is that small operators like him face stiff competition from B.C. Ferries, which is government-subsidized.

While Shaker is pursuing a new service between downtown and the Sunshine Coast, he maintains that other proposals announced recently — such as a walk-on ferry connecting Vancouver to Nanaimo — stand little chance of survival.

“I’m the only one who has been able to survive, and that’s because of the design and fuel efficiency of my boat,” says Shaker, who relishes his underdog status on the Bowen-to-Vancouver route.

“I challenge TransLink or B.C. Ferries to show a more efficient and environmentally friendly way to transport people between these two destinations.”

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Filed under British Columbia, Commuting, Environment, Marine transport, Politics, Tourism, Transportation

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