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Greater Victoria gas stations see long lineups as supplies run low due to Malahat closures

“It’s not a fuel shortage per se, but we’ve got a real bottleneck on the Malahat”; B.C. Ferries offering one-time sailing Thursday between Swartz Bay and Duke Point

Long lines of cars stretched from Greater Victoria service stations Wednesday as pumps began running dry.

Difficulties trucking gas over the Malahat were leading to shortages, said Peninsula Co-op’s director of operations, Erik Gault, who pleaded with motorists to stay off the highway.

“It’s not a fuel shortage per se,” he said, “but we’ve got a real bottleneck on the Malahat.”

All the gasoline companies will be in the same boat, he said.

Leithan Slade of Suncor, which owns Petro-Canada, echoed Gault in saying there isn’t a shortage of gas on Vancouver Island, just a challenge in getting it over the Malahat. “There are a few sites in Victoria that are out of fuel, and we’re working to refill them as soon as we can.”

Vancouver Island stations are supplied with gasoline off-loaded at five terminals north of the Malahat. Shell has a tank farm at Bare Point near Chemainus, while Imperial Oil (Esso) and Suncor (Petro-Can) have terminals in Nanaimo. Parkland Fuel has terminals at Port Hardy and at Hatch Point at Cobble Hill.

Normally, Peninsula Co-op would see four to eight loads of fuel come south each day, but none got through from Sunday until Tuesday, thanks to the storm. Since then, only one or two trucks have made it down the Malahat each day.

The highway is closed for repairs from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. until Monday, with single-lane alternating traffic the rest of the time. “There just isn’t enough room on the road, nor enough hours in the day,” said Gault, adding it’s important that non-essential traffic stay off the road so that vehicles delivering food, fuel and other critical supplies can get through. “The more trucks we can get through, the better off we’ll be.”

This isn’t a long-term shortage, he said. Anyone who can wait a few days need not gas up.

Until then, though, it will be a matter of replenishing stations as they can, with loads of fuel being split between locations.

On Fairfield Road at 1 p.m., a lineup of at least 50 cars beginning at the Fairfield Petro-Can snaked back several blocks in the westbound lane. Not all the drivers wanted gas; some were just trying to get past the lineup, but construction along the street made escape difficult for many.

Mike Farnworth, minister of public safety and solicitor general, said Wednesday the province is collaborating with distributors and transportation companies to establish new routes to get gasoline and other goods where they are needed.

“We will be monitoring and working very closely to ensure that there are fuel supplies getting to where they are needed,” he said. “And that will be very much a priority in terms of the work going forward.”

B.C. Ferries said it’s adding a round trip on Thursday to transport essential goods and travellers between Duke Point and Swartz Bay. Coastal Celebration, which can accommodate the equivalent of about 310 cars and 1,604 passengers, will be used for the sailing. It's scheduled depart Swartz Bay at 12:30 p.m., and arrive at Duke Point at 3:30 p.m. It will depart Duke Point at 4 p.m. and arrive at Swartz Bay at 7 p.m.

The one-time Swartz Bay-Duke Point service will be first-come, first serve, with no reservations offered.