As the population grows apace in Richmond and people complain about the increasing traffic, one company is shifting its attention to a business opportunity in the waters surrounding the city.
Richmond Harbour Ferry, a new company launched by a couple of local residents, is planning to build the city’s own private pedestrian-only ferry system, and is asking the community to join in the effort.
"It’s in our interest to do something to give back to the community,” said Roberto Farinha, director and founder of Richmond Harbour Ferry, who also owns a high-rise construction business.
“We feel that Richmond is a vibrant and fast-growing community, and that a waterway for transportation will really make it an exciting place.”
Farinha aims to offer a ferry service where people can go to work, get their groceries, go to different pubs, parks and community centres by the river when they don’t want to drive their car.
“And in the summertime, to be on the water is a lifestyle. We want to show people the wildlife, to bring them on to the river, to see swans, beavers, seals, otters...The fun on the river is spectacular,” he added.
The proposed ferry route will start from Starlight Casino in New Westminster, and stretch across the North Arm of the Fraser River going over to the River Rock Casino, then north to Iona beach, and finally back south to hit the Olympic Oval.
“We chose that because it’s a hugely demanding route. There’s so much new development here but no way for people to get around. [The ferry] is a nice way to link all these places together,” said Farinha.
Bridges Marina, a Richmond-based, family owned boat construction company, will build eight to 10 30-feet long ferries that are able to carry up to 30 passengers, according to Paul Palmer, the company’s president.
Ferries will depart regularly throughout the day all year round, and passengers can bring their pets, bikes and wheelchairs on board. And a “smart” system will make sure that the ferries can be tracked and called using a ferry app, he added.
“We have just finished the design stage and will start construction soon. Hopefully we will have some ready this year,” said Palmer.
“It’s like the ferry in Vancouver Harbour, but our one will be bigger, because the water in the river is more violent, so we need more power for getting up the river, and boats that provide safety to people.”
For Farinha, the construction of the ferries might be the easiest part of the whole project. The challenge right now is to persuade more people in the community to join the game.
“It is a community business and it is based on community effort,” said Farinha.
“My company will provide the initial capital, with subsidies from Bridges Marina, and we are looking for more subsidies from developers that potentially will benefit from the ferries.”
He plans to discuss a partnership with stakeholders, such as the two casinos, developers, pubs and McArthurGlen Designer Outlet.
“Our goal is to subsidize at least 50 per cent of the cost and make the service affordable to passengers,” said Farinha.
City of Richmond: Access to docks is key
Another challenge is to make sure there are enough docks along the way to pick up and drop off passengers, which is not an easy task.
“There are a variety of different people who have water lots licences along the waterfront, which would include the city... port, commercial marina operators and others,” noted Ted Townsend, spokesperson for the City of Richmond.
“Anyone who wanted to access an existing dock would have to negotiate with the water lot licence holder for access.”
He said the city cannot accommodate commercial use on any of Richmond waterfront property at this time, partly because some of its water lot licences are granted by the province and do not permit commercial uses.
“The proponent’s best option would be to approach existing commercial marina operators or Port and Harbour Authorities, along the river to seek access to existing dock space,” said Townsend.
“Once they secure dock sites, our economic development staff could work with them to assist in facilitating any regulatory approvals required and connecting with local tourism stakeholders to help raise awareness about their service.”
Although the project is still up in the air, Farinha has drawn a nice picture of the ferries in Richmond.
“There will be a captain who is a retired sailor or fisherman, having so many stories about the river to tell… And we will have different themes, such as a Chinese New Year theme when we will put lanterns up,” he said.
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