bc-091002-harbourlynx-ferry

Some hope for another downtown-to-downtown ferry service between Nanaimo, B.C., and Vancouver, like this HarbourLynx ferry. ((britishcolumbia.com))

A move to cancel a bus link between Nanaimo and Vancouver International Airport has some asking if its time to reconsider a passenger ferry between the two cities.

Pacific Coach Lines has applied to B.C.'s Passenger Transportation Board to eliminate its route that links Nanaimo to Vancouver International Airport (YVR) via the Duke Point ferry terminal.

Nanaimo's mayor says a renewal of a special passenger-only ferry service now would make sense, even though the most recent attempt to launch such a service failed.

"We've got expressions of interest and we keep getting people asking for information packages about it," Mayor John Ruttan told CBC News.

"We've looked at the possibility of trying to be a catalyst to get it going and with possible investment ourselves," Ruttan said.

The HarbourLynx ferry sailed its last 70-minute run between downtown Vancouver and Nanaimo in February 2006, after three years in business. The operators of the 300-passenger vessel eventually filed for bankruptcy.

'More viable now than ever'

Ruttan said he's convinced the time is right for somebody else to give it a try, and said the city has had preliminary discussions about the idea with BC Ferries.

"I am very anxious to try to re-establish the fast passenger-only service and that has been tried unsuccessfully two or three times, but it's to my way of thinking more viable now than it's ever been," the mayor said.

"We're working very hard. We've talked to a number of different investor groups, we've also talked with some groups from China that have expressed peripheral interest, so we're forever optimistic," he said.

Some local tourism operators also like the notion.

"In Nanaimo, a lot of people wish someone would take another shot at running it, and I think there's a lot of people that wish it success," said Dave Ilyn, who owns the Buccanneer Inn.

BC Ferries currently runs two ferry routes to Nanaimo from the mainland. One sails from Vancouver's northwest suburb of Horseshoe Bay, 23 kilometres from downtown, the other from Tsawwassen, 30 kilometres south of Vancouver's downtown core.

Ruttan says he thinks that it would be at least a year before another ferry service could get up and running.

'Would love to have continued'

The Nanaimo to YVR route Pacific Coach Lines wants to cut has been operating for one year, but the buses have not been running full.

The service would be missed by people like Bruce Barnard, owner of the  Painted Turtle Guesthouse in Nanaimo.

"It's particularly difficult for travellers to get direct access straight to the airport. And they literally went from door to door," Barnard said.

"We would have loved to have continued to operate," said Darian Tooley, director of sales and marketing for Pacific Coach Lines.

"I think a lot of factors just hit us from various different points whether it was the economy, [or] job losses."

"For Nanaimo, it's a huge thing," said Ruttan. "I'm surprised it wasn't better supported."

The public has until Oct. 26 to make submissions on the application to the Passenger Transportation Board to cancel the route.