Century class ferry panned

by Jacqueline Massey

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, August 14th 1998, p1: with permission)

Bowen Islanders who rode the Skeena Queen in April of this year were not particularly impressed with the commuter-style ferry, a survey recently released by the British Columiba Ferry Corporation reports.

When asked whether they would support the operation of a Century Class vessel on the Bowen-Horseshoe Bay run, 60% of the respondents said “no.” The questionaire was completed by approximately 100 people, including 32 students, who caught the ferry while it was on a four-day trial here.

Passengers complained that the four separate passenger lounges were noisy and isolating and “not conducive to strengthening or encouraging community relations.”

The seats were found to be hard, too narrow and generally uncomfortable and there were also concerns about the seating capacity.

The $21 million Century Class ferry built for BC Ferries at Allied Shipyards in North Vancouver and launched in January, 1997, was designed to carry 100 vehicles and 600 passengers.

However, each of the lounges, or “pods” as BC Ferries calls them, carries approximately 80 seats. The total of 304 was expected to be insufficient considering that approximately 200 Bowen students alone fill the peak morning and afdternoon runs.

“Where are all the school kids going to sit?” asked one survey respondent.

The placement of the washrooms, wich are located outside the lounges, was thought to be inconvenient and prompted concerns about safety. Supervision of children moving from vehicles or the lounges to use the washrooms would be difficult, it was pointed out.

The ferry did win a few points from those who were happy with the car deck design and the increased vehicle capacity of the vessel. And, while some said they missed the cafeteria and amenties of the Queen of Capilano, many agreed that they would welcome a frill-free ship if it was more economical and cost efficient.

According to figures provided by BC Ferries, the Queen of Capilano consumes a daily average of 7,500 litres of diesel compared with 6,200 litres of fuel for the Skeen Queen. The Queen of Capilano runs at 14 knots under a full load whereas the Skeena Queen's speed is 15 knots.

It requires a crew of eight, compared to the Queen of Capilano, which is staffed by 10 people regularly and 14 during busy spells.

Doug Sinkinson, a member of the new Ferry Advisory Committee, says he is not surprised by the negative feedback resulting from the trial run of a Century Class ferry on the Bowen route. He says he is planning on “writing an epistle” to Tom Ward, President and CEO of BC Ferries, about the Skeena Queen.

“The Skeena Queen is probably a damn good ship with the hull and the machinery operating it,” said Sinkinson. “Where it goes wrong for the Bowen Island service is how it's configured.”

Sinkinson's strongest contention is that the ship does not have a double deck for foot passengers for upper loading. This would greatly decrease the loading and unloading times at the Horseshoe Bay terminal, where BC Ferries has recently spent millions of dollars to construct a passenger gangway, says Sinkinson.

Sinkinson said it would be crazy for BC Ferries to build a ship that's not equipped to make use of those walkways.

However, Anne Carpenter, Manager, Customer and Stakeholder Relations for Inter-Island Services, said that the design for the Century Class ferries could accomdate an upper deck for passengers. She says this is one option that might be added to the final design of a ferry intended for Bowen.

Carpenter says that gathering feedback about design and other issues was the whole point of the trial run of the Skeena Queen and the survey. It will help BC Ferries to determine if modifications would be necessary if a Century Class vessel was built to replace the Queen of Capilano.

She admitted that, “Definitely, the support for the Skeena Queen as she sits was not there.” However, she felt that the test had been worthwhile because it “sure gave us a good feel for what the folks wanted to tell us.”

Sinkinson said that he hopes that BC Ferries is really listening this time. He says that the corporation was told three years ago that the design of the Century Class vessel was not adequate.

BC Ferries introduced the Century Class as a part of their 10-year capital plan aimed at replacing its aging fleet. They have proposed building at least three more of this type of ferry, specifically designed for shorter, high-volume routes.

However, the chances are slim that a boat bound for the Bowen run, or any other routes for that matter, will be built soon.

“Construction is not anywhere close,” said Carpenter. “It's a money crunch.”

Page last updated 99-10-31