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Hullo Ferries hits 250,000-passenger mark, anticipates busy summer

Nanaimo-Vancouver passenger-only service is aiming to double its ridership in its first full summer season
Hullo Ferries, which launched last August, is offering more sailings this spring and summer with six or seven round trips a day. VIA HULLO FERRIES

Hullo Ferries is aiming to ­double its ridership in its first full summer season as it celebrates reaching the 250,000-passenger mark in its first nine months.

“We are very pleased” with the latest passenger numbers, Hullo Ferries chief executive Alastair Caddick said Friday.

“It certainly lines up with where we are hoping to go. We are doing well and looking forward to doing even better.”

May has been the best month to date, he said, adding June is expected to be even better.

“I think our ambitions for this summer would be to double our ridership from where we are at right now.”

Caddick expects more ­mainland visitors coming to ­Vancouver Island, heading to destinations such as Parksville.

Passengers are now able to show up and get on the next sailing, but Caddick expects some sailings will be fully sold out in June, July and August.

All seats on its two foot-passenger 354-seat vessels can be reserved. Prices start at $39.99 one way and $75 for a round trip for those age 13-64, rising to $59.99 one way and $110 round trip for business class. Seniors pay $35 for a round trip at the lowest price tier.

The company, which launched in August 2023, is offering more sailings this spring and summer with six or seven round trips a day.

Ridership numbers currently tend to lean more to people riding from Nanaimo to Vancouver than the other direction, he said.

Hullo puts on extra runs for those heading to Vancouver from Nanaimo for sporting events and concerts and bring them back the same night, which has proved popular, he said.

Caddick said 80 per cent of the company’s 100 employees are based in Nanaimo, adding Hullo is fully staffed for the summer.

It’s brought in some changes to service, including permitting passengers to bring on sporting equipment and larger pieces of luggage, since some passengers are catching cruise ships in Vancouver and carry larger bags.

Caddick said Hullo has delivered more than 95 per cent of all scheduled sailings since August, including all of its sailings in April.

Travellers from the Lower Mainland will see improved connections at the Port of Nanaimo, where Hullo ferries tie up, he said. Hullo has partnered with car-share services Modo and Evo, both of which have vehicles at the terminal.

A car-rental company will be coming to the site as well, he said, and electric bikes and B.C. Transit service are available.

David McQuinn, general manager of Coast Bastion Hotel, said Hullo Ferries has increased the number of people coming to Nanaimo. “The growth in tourism has been invaluable for ­businesses like ours.”

Alex Rueben, executive director of the Association of B.C. Marine Industries, said the service has turned Nanaimo into “almost a suburb of Vancouver.” “I think they have really tapped into something there.”

Passengers are going to ­Vancouver not only for pleasure but for work, which helps build reliable ridership, he said.

Rueben pointed to the quick crossing time of 75 minutes, reliability of service, and the ability to add sailings for special events as key elements of Hullo’s success. “I really think they are tapping into all aspects of the market.”

Hullo Ferries follows previous failed private efforts to run passenger vessels between Nanaimo and Vancouver.

Most recently, HarbourLynx ran a passenger-only service between Nanaimo and Vancouver from 2003 to 2006.

The Royal Sealink Express’s attempt to offer foot-passenger service between Nanaimo and Vancouver lasted less than a year, failing in 1993.

A hovercraft service was attempted in the 1960s and 1980s.

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