Mayne Island farmer outs ‘secret’ ferry route

Mad Farmer Liberation Front member Ron Pither gets around the islands and beyond.  - Photo COURTESY RON PITHER
Mad Farmer Liberation Front member Ron Pither gets around the islands and beyond.
— image credit: Photo COURTESY RON PITHER

A Gulf Islands farmer with properties on Mayne and Salt Spring is hoping to publicize an option he says would encourage inter-island travel on BC Ferries.

Ron Pither is the longtime owner of Varalaya Farm on Mayne Island. He is also a member of Salt Spring’s Ecoreality co-operative and a regular participant at the islands’ farmers’ markets.

In travelling between ventures, Pither has discovered what he calls a secret circle route connecting Salt Spring, Galiano and Mayne islands on Friday afternoons during the summer. He believes the option should be ticketed — and actively marketed — as a through-fare connection that would benefit all three communities.

“People don’t relate to the other islands very well because they don’t get there,” Pither said.

“Why don’t you have a way that people could visit the different islands on a Friday night? [BC Ferries] could be selling this as a tourist incentive to increase traffic.”

While according to the BC Ferries schedule there is no sailing from Salt Spring to Mayne on Fridays, Pither’s secret route connects the dots between other sailings published as individual trips.

His strategy is to leave Long Harbour at 3:55 p.m. aboard the Bowen Queen to Galiano. He then gets off and waits one hour for the Queen of Nanaimo, on route from Tsawwassen, which leaves Sturdies Bay at 5:35 p.m. and arrives at Mayne 30 minutes later. Pither can then spend several hours before catching the Queen of Nanaimo again on its next trip through, leaving Village Bay at 9:40 and arriving back on Salt Spring at 10:55.

Even if ticketed as individual trips, the cost of using this route is considerably lower than if Pither was to travel through Swartz Bay. However, he maintains that not only should he be charged for only one inter-island trip, but that the route should be marked in the schedule with “TR,” signifying a continuous route via transfer. He said that people travelling to Salt Spring for medical treatment would benefit as well as the tourist economy.

The chairs of the local ferry advisory committees agree that BC Ferries has changed its schedules in ways that sends traffic through Swartz Bay and makes inter-island traffic more difficult than it was in previous decades. But they don’t feel the demand is high enough to make future changes likely.

Brian Hollingshead, who chairs the FAC for the Southern Gulf Islands, noted that from Galiano it’s cheaper to go to Swartz Bay than Tsawwassen even though the distance is almost identical.

“What that does is have an influence on where people go to shop,” he said, noting that while other islanders used to travel to Salt Spring for most of their needs, they are now used to going to Sidney or Saanich.

Even with a change, he said, “I just wonder how much inter-island traffic you would generate today.”

Salt Spring FAC chair Harold Swierenga added that although there has been some interest among islanders, the likelihood of an administrative change is small.

“There are a number of people who would like to go back and forth between Salt Spring and the Southern Gulf Islands because there’s a lot of services that are on Salt Spring . . . [but] there is no interest at all from BC Ferries at making that any easier.”

BC Ferries communications director Deborah Marshall said she was unaware of any request for the route, either from Pither or from other travellers.

“It’s extremely rare that anyone wants to do this,” she said, but offered to provide Pither a letter that would entitle him to a through-fare inter-island ticket cost.

But Pither has said he doesn’t feel right about such a deal.

“I don’t want special treatment, I want everyone to have equitable, fair treatment,” he said.

“I thank them for that, but it’s just common sense. Why don’t they just print it?”


Pither’s secret route will not be available after the summer schedule ends on Sept. 5.



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