Pre-sale to gauge demand for commuter water taxi
After a year-long hiatus from running a water taxi commuter service to the mainland, Mike Shannon of the English Bay Launch is ready to consider starting up again.
This time, he is looking at using a fuel-efficient boat, the Bowen Belle, to ensure the run’s viability.
But the service with a tentative start date of February 18 will depend on the number of bookings Shannon will get ahead of time.
“We did a survey last week because we heard from a lot of people who say they miss the service,” Shannon said, explaining that he has received many emails stating that the water taxi had made commuting much easier and asking him whether he would consider operating it again.
“What we’ve heard is that the water taxi plays a pretty important role and it even impacts property values,” he said. “We’ve had inquiries from people who are thinking about moving to Bowen but are working downtown and looking at options of how to get to work.”
When Shannon sent an informal survey out to past customers, several emails bounced back and he’s learned about people who have sold their homes and moved off island due to the difficulty of commuting.
The 88 people who filled out the survey were asked where and when they would like to depart, how many days a week they would use the service, what they consider a reasonable price and whether they would be interested in a monthly pass.
Based on the response, Shannon is planning a departure from Snug Cove to Coal Harbour at 6:30 a.m. and to Granville Island at 8 a.m. Returning to Bowen Island in the afternoon, the boat leaves Granville Island at 4:30 p.m. and Coal Harbour at 6 p.m.
A one-way trip will cost $20, a return trip $35. For 10 round trips, Shannon plans to charge $300. A monthly pass that has unlimited use for an entire month is $500 and offers preferred seating. If people purchase three months in advance, Shannon offers them free rides from February 18 to March 1.
“I’m only using one boat this time. We have a maximum of 12 passengers per boat and we’ll make two trips in the morning and two in the afternoon,” Shannon said, adding that English Bay Launch ran two boats before discontinuing the service – with double the capacity that he is proposing for this year. But Shannon is willing to adjust the runs according to demand and also plans to offer weekend service again in the warmer season.
“In the summer, we’ll go back to having the weekend service. We had a strong summer last year,” says Shannon, who believes that the water taxi helps Bowen Island businesses. “I would say that 95 per cent of the people on the weekend run have a meal and some buy a gift while they are here.”
And even though Shannon had a lot of positive feedback in response to starting up the commuter runs, he says he is “very cautious with the Bowen market.” To make sure that the ridership is there and pay for start-up costs such as moorage, insurance and getting the Bowen Belle ready for service, he is “pushing pre-sales.” On February 1, he will evaluate whether he has enough riders who are committed to using the service. Tickets and passes can be purchased by contacting Wendy Shannon at 604-484-8497. If there are enough pre-sales, English Bay Launch will open its website to single seat bookings, if not, all sales will be refunded.
Shannon has used the fuel-efficient Bowen Belle before, but had to deal with transmission problems. “We’ve purchased a new stern drive that will hopefully solve the mechanical problems,” he said, adding that the bigger catamaran Highflyer will be on stand-by for rough water conditions. “It’s heavier and has lots of horsepower but it also burns four times as much fuel,” Shannon explained. “We’ll keep [the Highflyer] close to make sure the service is reliable.”
Shannon believes that the absence of the commuter water taxi has increased people’s appreciation for the service and hopes that this will find a reflection in the number of islanders who will commit to using it on a regular basis. “It’s going to be a group effort,” he says, about reinstating the run.