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Vancouver-Nanaimo Fast Ferry “Hullo” launches

Hullo catamaran fast passenger ferry, underway during sea trials.

The much-needed new Hullo passenger-only fast ferry service from downtown Nanaimo to downtown Vancouver began service on August 14, 2023 with an initial schedule of three daily sailings, which is expected to expand to six in September. Customers will board at the Nanaimo Port Authority, 100 Port Drive and at the Vancouver Harbour Flight Centre, 1055 Canada Place. 

The new service is being welcomed locally – particularly in view of the recent spate of BC Ferries cancellations due to staffing and mechanical issues, plus their arguably unwise move to shift some sailings to the Duke Point terminal which lacks transit connections. Nanaimo is growing rapidly, and the shift to hybrid working in the wake of the pandemic has enabled more people to move to the Island for less expensive homes, allowing for less frequent, if longer, commutes to Vancouver. The direct harbour-to-harbour Hullo service avoids being stuck in traffic in West Vancouver, downtown, and on the Lions’ Gate Bridge.

Enthusiasm for the fast ferry is understandably tempered from having seen similar services fail in the past, but seeing the cautious, deliberate means by which Hullo appears to being planned, delivered, and marketed, with multiple vessels, and with the partnership also of the Snuneymuxw First Nation, there are hopeful signs that it will succeed.

To be sure, there are issues, like transit access. The Nanaimo terminal is located a long walk from BC Transit’s downtown transfer point, and from the the Gabriola Island ferry, but there are plans to provide a shuttle bus. The paid parking at the Nanaimo terminal can be reached by two roads: Port Way that crosses the line used by SRY freight trains loading and unloading from railcar barges, and Port Drive that uses an old narrow bridge to cross the tracks.

TABC has reached out to The City of Nanaimo on the road issues, and the city points out that SRY is aware of the Hullo service, so the chances are that movements will be scheduled to minimize interference. The aging Port Drive bridge span is being maintained and monitored, but there are plans for secondary access at the far south end of Port Drive, eventually tying through Farquhar Street to Nicol Street and the Trans Canada Highway.

There is, however, a powerful benefit of having the railway near the terminal: if the critical issues of First Nations land reversion and reconciliation can be fairly settled in such a way to permit revitalization of the rail corridor and resumption of passenger service, it could feed customers to Hullo by providing attractive connections from many southern, central, and western Island communities, much like the similar SMART train from Sonoma and Marin counties in California that connects with San Francisco fast ferries.

For sailing schedules and tickets, see https://hullo.com/schedule/.

Photo courtesy of the Vancouver Island Ferry Company

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