So far everything looks good on paper, but this weekend Metro Transit will find out exactly what happens when they put a fast ferry in the water and make the run from Mill Cove in Bedford to downtown Halifax.
As part of HRM’s Ferry Cultivation Study, the Municipality has chartered a 200-passenger fast ferry from the city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, and will be making a series of trips up and down the harbour to determine if the targeted 20 minute-run—at a top speed of 28 to 30 knots—can be done safely and without disruption to other harbour traffic. Including loading and unloading, Metro Transit has targeted the commute to take no more than 30 minutes. By comparison, the existing harbour ferry motors along at a top speed of approximately seven knots, and would take 40 minutes to travel from Bedford to downtown, plus loading and unloading time.
Several years ago, the province of BC spent $400 million to build three fast ferries to shuttle cars and passengers between the mainland and Vancouver Island. As it turned out, the ferries were virtually useless, as they couldn’t be run at top speed for more than half the trip without creating a wake that destroyed docks, coastline and pleasure craft moored on nearby islands and near the ferry terminals.
Although the scale of the future HRM commuter ferry and service it will provide is nowhere near the same, Brian Taylor, senior advisor to HRM for transit planning, says avoiding that type of blunder is part of the reason for the testing.
“Wake wash is one of the things we are very conscious of, ensuring we have proper measurements to ensure there is no impact on the coastline or other users in the harbour,” he says. “We’re also doing speed trials to see if we can provide the service at the speeds we anticipate. We’ll also have some of our present ferry crew looking at the ferry from a maintenance and operational point of view, and have the harbour regulators see how the vessel performs in the harbour and with existing traffic.”
As just one aspect of the municipality’s grand plan to improve commuter transit, the fast ferry project is still very much in the study-and-consult phase. Taylor says potential ridership surveying is ongoing, and the specifications of the Bedford terminal, as well as necessary modifications to the downtown terminal, are still to be determined. And although a report from the Regional Planning office to city councillors last February indicated there was a short list of four Marine Architect firms expressing interest in building the ferries, Taylor says this is not the case.
The estimated cost to construct two ferries and a new terminal and make modifications to the Halifax terminal is around $15 million.
“As this project unfolds we’ll have to modify those figures accordingly, and our market analysis will direct us to what size of vessel, what size of propulsion and crewing is needed, so the cost will be firmed up after all those things are in place,” say Taylor. “But the $15 million is a reasonable estimate.”
In the February report to council, Regional Planning indicated an application had been made to the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency to cover 50 percent of the price tag. That, too, says Taylor, is still under negotiation.
“Nothing has been firmed up with ACOA yet, but we are working with them and they do have representation on our project group,” says Taylor. “We have to complete the study and ensure the service is going to be feasible before we take the step to look at exactly how we fund it.”
Taylor expects much of the initial consulting on the project to be completed by late November or early December, at which point the Regional Planning office will make a presentation to council and seek further direction on how to proceed.
Assuming all goes according to plan, Taylor says it’s still a tough task to put a date on exactly when Bedford-to-downtown commuters will be able to get off the streets and onto the water for their daily commute.
“It will be sometime in two to three years to build these vessels and get everything in place,” he says. “And again, we’ll have to firm up our timelines once we get the consulting done.”