Metro Vancouver floats idea of electric passenger vessels on Fraser River

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      By early 2020, fully electric ferries will connect the Canadian mainland with Amherst Island in Lake Ontario.

      The following year, a similar service will be available for travellers to and from Ontario’s nearby Wolfe Island.

      Here at home, B.C. Ferries will deploy two electric vessels connecting Powell River and Texada Island by mid-2020.

      Four more so-called Island Class ferries are expected to sail by 2022 in B.C. These will connect Campbell River and Quadra Island, and Nanaimo with Gabriola Island.

      Powered by clean energy, these transportation systems are low-emission alternatives to conventional diesel ferries.

      According to planners with Metro Vancouver, the region can have all-electric vessels too, servicing cities along the Fraser River.

      Planners Joshua Power and James Stiver have prepared a report recommending that the region pitch the idea of a river electric-bus service to TransLink.

      TransLink is currently putting together Transport 2050, its long-range transportation plan for the next 30 years.

      “Using clean electricity, an electric river bus service for Fraser River communities could be a low-emission transportation alternative that is consistent with the goals of various Metro Vancouver planning processes that are underway,” Power and Stiver wrote in their report.

      Potentially benefitting from the new service are the Township of Langley; the cities of Surrey, Maple Ridge, Pitt Meadows, Coquitlam, Port Coquitlam, Burnaby, Richmond, Delta, New Westminster, and Vancouver; Electoral Area A; and the Tsawwassen First Nation.

      “Passenger ferries make good candidates for battery powered systems since they tend to operate on short and consistent routes, which simplifies the planning and installation of the necessary charging infrastructure at the docking locations,” according to Power and Stiver.

      The Metro Vancouver planners also noted that electric-powered vessels might be “more expensive at the outset, but may have lower maintenance costs and fuel consumption over time, as well as lower engine noise and emissions”.

      They also mentioned that the region is “home to businesses that specialize in developing and manufacturing maritime energy storage systems”.

      Power and Stiver’s report is included in the agenda on Friday (November 15) of Metro Vancouver’s climate-action committee.

      On September 20 this year, the committee directed staff to report back on an electric bus service that would link Fraser River communities.

      Committee member and Maple Ridge councillor Ahmed Yousef recalled that it was he who brought forward the idea of a low-emission river bus service for discussion.

      “We’ve seen over the years that our carbon footprint as a region continues to increase, and with the majority of our population commuting to work and back, I believe the time is now of the essence to be able to provide the service for our residents and commuters,” Yousef told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview.

      According to Yousef, an electric river bus system will help move people in the region in a “very environmentally conscious, safe, and sustainable manner”.

      “I certainly hope that TransLink will not wait until 2050 to start implementing this idea,” Yousef said when asked to assess the chance that the transportation authority will include a Fraser River bus service in its Transport 2050 plan.

      In their report, planners Power and Stiver observed that riverfront lands are typically industrial and port-related and have not been planned for residential or mixed uses.

      “Staff note that a land use and infrastructure framework that includes appropriate origins and destinations that would support ridership on a river-based transit system does not exist today,” Power and Stiver wrote.