Editorial: Colwood-Victoria ferry should be launched as soon as possible

Colwood Mayor Rob Martin is eager to see a commuter ferry running between Royal Bay and downtown Victoria. He is right. We should all get on board — the idea first, and in a few years, the ferry itself.

And to be clear, this ferry would not just be launched to bring commuters into downtown Victoria. Commuters will need to go both ways; that will be the reality of life in the coming decades.

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Colwood and Langford are seeing much of the growth in the Capital Regional District. A commuter ferry could provide a gateway to those communities, a way for people from Victoria to get there for jobs, for shopping, and even for enjoying the wondrous views offered by Colwood’s Royal Bay area.

It would be the local equivalent of the SeaBus between Vancouver and North Vancouver, although our ride would last three times as long and as a result would be more costly.

Still, given the option of being stuck in traffic or enjoying the view while someone else does the driving, the commuter ferry is the clear winner.

So let’s get started — but no, sorry we can’t. The South Island Transportation Strategy, released Friday by the province, is designed to reduce dependency on vehicles and support clean-air­ initiatives, but only if there is earth below people, not water.

The Transportation Ministry says work on highway infrastructure will continue. There will be more bus lanes. Roads, bridges and interchanges are to be designed and built with pedestrians, cyclists and wheelchair users in mind. There will be more charging stations for electric vehicles, and more bike lockers and park-and-ride stalls.

Marine options? Ignored.

It’s hard to understand why a water route is not being given serious consideration. There is a chokepoint between east and west where the Trans-Canada Highway, the old Island highway, the E&N and the Galloping Goose trail come together. There is a limit to the capacity of that spot, and it makes little sense to keep funnelling more drivers and cyclists through it.

Meanwhile, we have a strong argument in favour of a commuter ferry, and it is not that old.

A 2019 report on the idea said the service could remove up to 1,000 vehicles a day from local highways and move more than a million people a year between the West Shore and downtown Victoria.

The cost has been pegged at more than $100 million, with $25 million for a breakwater and dock at Royal Bay, up to $4 million for dock improvements in the Inner Harbour and the remainder for vessels.

The report envisioned five catamaran fast ferries travelling between Royal Bay and Ship Point, each with room for 294 passengers, paying $2.50 per 28-minute ride.

B.C. Ferries, which commissioned the report, has said it is only in the “very preliminary” stages of determining the feasibility and its involvement.

Since the report was released, the coronavirus pandemic has had a massive impact on Greater Victoria. The office workers who were coming downtown every day are more likely to be working at home.

And if working at home continues to be a viable option, what about all of the people who bought small condos in the downtown core so they could be close to their offices? If proximity to work is no longer a factor, why not live in a spot with great views and healthy outdoor recreation options — yes, we are talking Royal Bay.

Beyond that, think of the new jobs in Colwood that have been announced in the past few days. Seaspan Victoria Shipyards is planning a massive consolidation of its warehouse and office space in Colwood. The Royal B.C. Museum is moving a large part of its collections and archives to Colwood. A new Royal Bay Elementary School has been announced for Colwood.

That is just a start; there is more to come, with Royal Bay a driving force and a focal point for the amazing new Colwood.

Let’s plan for a ferry service. Let’s get it started while there is still room on the Colwood waterfront for the infrastructure that is needed.

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