A new private passenger ferry between downtown Victoria and dowtown Vancouver is one step closer to starting service this summer.

Australian company Riverside Marine said it has signed a lease agreement with Victoria's Harbour Authority. The company currently runs similar ferries in Australia. 

The 300-person vessel would take up to 3.5 hours and will likely cost about $80 one way, catering to tourists hoping to have a close-up look at West Coast wildlife. 

"We definitely see a demand for a service like this, particularly over the summer season," said Nick Cheong, who will be the ferry's regional manager.

Ian Robertson, Victoria Harbour Authority chief executive, said the company will fill a specific niche market. 

"They are going to position this particular service as more of what I'll call an experiential way to get between Vancouver and Victoria," he said.

Other companies have tried passenger ferries between the two cities. Royal Sealink Express shut down in 1993 after running for a year and a half.

Won't compete with BC Ferries

Robertson previously told CBC the new service won't compete with B.C. Ferries, catering instead to high-end travellers who would consider taking a helicopter or seaplane to the island.

Robertson said he believes the service will succeed where previous attempts failed because the route is billed as more than just point-to-point transportation.

Other passenger vessels run out of Victoria's harbour as well. 

The Clipper carries passengers to downtown Seattle, and whale-watching company Prince of Whales offers one-way connections to Vancouver and Seattle. It offers full-day tours that include travel between Victoria and Vancouver.

With files from Richard Zussman