As the proposed foot passenger ferry service from Nanaimo to Vancouver inches closer, a new wrinkle in the process was unveiled at city council Monday night.
Island Ferry Service Ltd. wants a 20 year lease on city owned land for the Nanaimo portion of the project.
They also want a partnership with the city that would see the city not collect up to $500,000 in taxes in revenue each year for the first five years.
IFSL's projections indicate the city could net more than $4 million from the first 10 years. Just nothing in the first five years.
We can almost hear objectors: "Here we go again. The city is giving money away again."
Except it isn't, in this case. If council agrees, it will mean the city won't be taking tax money from the business for the first five years of its existence. The city wouldn't get any money, but it wouldn't give any, either.
This scenario, therefore, is not a subsidy. It would be giving operators a helping hand during its foundational years, to help it succeed over the long haul where two other fast ferry companies failed.
We have been firm in our objections to the myriad grants and subsidies doled out by the city. There needs to be a curtailing of habits that continue to see organizations and groups of every type coming cap in hand to the city.
This is not the case with the foot ferry. The city won't be cutting IFSL a cheque. They just wouldn't be getting one from IFSL during the critical, formative years of what most hope will be a permanent fixture on the Nanaimo waterfront.
It takes awhile to build a successful business, and those who have, know it takes about five years to establish a good company and reach consistent profitability. Obviously, the investors believe in the long-term prospects and profitability, otherwise they wouldn't be at this stage.
IFSL has the benefit of analyzing why the first two attempts at the Georgia Strait crossing were unsuccessful, and plotting a course that avoids such pitfalls. Depending on who one talks to, the first, Royal Sealink Express, had a profitable Nanaimo-Vancouver link in 1992-93, but it was the Victoria-Vancouver run that caused it to drown in a sea of red ink.
HarbourLynx was almost doomed from the start, with structural problems in the vessel, then chronic engine problems, and a massive, unforeseen tax bill, before the service stopped in 1996.
This attempt needs to succeed. Failure would surely scare away anyone else from even considering such a venture ever again. IFSL is floating a fee of $30 per rider one way. BC Ferries is now charging $15.50 per passenger, but that only gets people to Horseshoe Bay. If they're heading to downtown Vancouver, there's a $9.75 bus fare, making it $25.25. That doesn't factor in the two hours-plus it takes.
Anyone catching the first two ferries out of Departure Bay on weekday mornings knows there are a large number of walk-on passengers making the trip. Without question, a one-hour downtown, harbour-to-harbour service that would allow them to use their laptops would be an attractive option.
A Nanaimo-Vancouver fast foot ferry is widely accepted as something that will benefit the city in its entirety. If what IFSL is asking is considered to be an "investment," even though the city is not contributing directly, then it would be a prudent one.
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