Consultant recommends mandate for B.C. Ferries to consider public interest in reducing carbon emissions

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      The B.C. government's recently released CleanBC plan outlines several approaches for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in the transportation sector.

      It promises that every vehicle will be zero-emission by 2040. Tailpipe emission standards will be beefed up for vehicles sold after 2025.

      But there's not a great deal said about B.C. Ferries.

      The CleanBC report points out that three new intermediate-class vessels and one of its Spirit class boats will be capable of operating on liquefied natural gas. And there's a goal of having a fully electric inland fleet by 2040, though its contributions to emissions is far, far lower than the coastal fleet.

      This will be done by "taking incremental steps in that direction as available technology increasingly supports ongoing safe, reliable and efficient service".

      However, a consultant made far more detailed suggestions to reduce the ferry fleet's emissions last year in a report to Blair Redlin. Redlin was the special adviser reviewing coastal ferry services.

      Ecopath Planning principal Eric Doherty's 21-page report (beginning on page 169 of this PDF) notes that the B.C. government has a legislated goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in 2040 by 60 percent below the 2007 level.

      Yet he pointed out that neither the Coastal Ferry Act nor the Coastal Ferry Services contract give B.C. Ferries a mandate to "consider the public interest" in reducing emissions. He called for the act and contract to be amended.

      Doherty's report also emphasized the importance of prioritizing low-carbon modes of travel, such as public transit, walking, and cycling.

      He noted that this also benefits those who bring vehicles at busy times because they're less likely to be left behind on the terminal.

      Among his suggestions are reducing foot-passenger fares relative to vehicle fares, and scrapping extra fees for bicycles. He also called for allowing passengers to buy transit fares aboard ferries and perhaps making it possible to use TransLink's Compass card on the ferry system.

      Doherty's report indicates that it might be more appealing for ferry passengers if buses left the terminal when they were full rather than waiting for scheduled departure times. And he suggested that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure could improve transit-priority measures, such as shoulder bus lanes.

      In addition, he stated that reducing the "walking-rolling" distance for people with disabilities and seniors between ferries and buses would also enhance service—as would improving cycling routes from ferry terminals to transit exchanges, such as the one in Ladner.

      Eric Doherty has called for the installation of electric-vehicle charging stations at B.C. Ferries terminals, like the one above at Duke Point.
      Ken Walker

      Electrification offers benefits

      Doherty's report also focused a great deal of attenton on encouraging the use of low greenhouse-gas-emitting vehicles, such as electric cars and trucks.

      "A successful vehicle electrification program will likely require charging stations at locations, such as ferry terminals, where vehicles on longer trips can charge while stopped for other reasons," Doherty wrote.

      He pointed out that European ferry operators are "claiming impressive cost savings and deep GHG emissions reductions from electric ferries".

      "Washington State Ferries is planning to convert their largest ferries to battery electric operation, pending funding from the state and federal governments," Doherty added.

      Moreover, he pointed out that it's questionable whether life-cycle greenhouse-gas emissions reductions will be achieved by switching to liquefied natural gas, given overall methane emissions. (Methane is a far more potent heat-trapping gas than carbon dioxide, even though it's lifespan in the atmosphere is far shorter.)

      "It may be also be more economically advantageous for BC Hydro to sell electricity to BC Ferries than to export the same power," he wrote.

      Emissions could be reduced, Doherty suggested, by converting ferries to be capable of operating on plug-in power, starting with shorter routes and vessels due for major refits.

      B.C. Hydro could work with B.C. Ferries on upgrades to the electricity grid to accommodate charging facilities, he added. Slower vessel speeds could enhance energy efficiency. And terminals and other buildings could be converted to switch from space and water heating to electric power.

      "BC Ferries should review all major planned capital expenditures, in particular any new vessel purchases, major refits, and major work on terminals, in light of B.C.'s GHG reduction targets," Doherty stated. "The review should consider both direct emissions and the impact on emissions from the transportation network."