BC Ferries wants to hear what ferry users are hoping to see in the five new ships it plans to build, so it's "inviting customers and communities to join conversations about the new vessels and to provide input that will help shape their future onboard experience."
The ferries will replace the C-Class ships Queen of New Westminster, Queen of Alberni, Queen of Coquitlam and Queen of Cowichan and add an extra ship to the Lower Mainland-Vancouver Island routes.
According to BC Ferries, "the new ships are being specified to deliver enhanced environmental sustainability and offer flexibility to meet changing travel demands into the future."
"This is an exciting project and we invite our customers to join the conversation," said Mark Collins, BC Ferries president and CEO.
"There is still a lot to be decided as we work to keep fares affordable, reduce our environmental impact, plan for future flexibility and enhance the onboard experience for customers. We want to hear your thoughts on the project, and your ideas about how we can improve your experience when travelling with BC Ferries.
"This is an opportunity to get informed and provide feedback on the newest additions to our fleet as they are being designed."
BC Ferries is already setting technical requirements around minimizing noise and reducing overall environmental impact, as well as assessing what the ships will need to offer in terms of size and capacity, speed and manoeuvrability, and space allotments.
In a release announcing the start of public engagement, BC Ferries said it wants to hear from customers about ways to "improve the customer experience onboard," which could include accessibility features, food and beverage service and seating options, children's play area designs, designs for outdoor areas and seating as well as pet areas, and enhancements for foot passengers and customers who ride bicycles.
"One of the complexities of designing a new ferry is working within weight, space and cost restrictions," Collins said. "This means we need to carefully think through each aspect of the design."
BC Ferries put out a call for expressions of interest from shipbuilders who might be interested in bidding on the contracts last October, but hasn't revealed any details about which firms might be in the running.
Speaking at a Sechelt Chamber of Commerce event earlier this year, Collins said building new ships in B.C. would be difficult to balance with efforts to keep fares low.
"The price to build in Canada is between 30 and 50 per cent more than the price to build overseas, and that 30 to 50 per cent premium comes from the fare box," Collins said.
The new ferries are a key part of the plan to get permanent two-ship service on the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay route, something BC Ferries is hoping to start in the company's 2024 fiscal year when some of the new ships are delivered and the Queen of Oak Bay can be reassigned to run in tandem with the Queen of Surrey.
The Queen of Surrey and Queen of Oak Bay will be the last of the C-Class ferries to be replaced – in 2030, according to BC Ferries' long-range capital plan.
The public engagement on the new vessels started March 12 and continues until April 12. People can offer feedback online at bcferries.com/about/nextgen or take part in customer engagement sessions that will be held on board the Lower Mainland-Vancouver Island sailings.
Ferries said it also plans to hold stakeholder workshops.
Before ordering new ships, BC Ferries needs approval from the Ferries Commissioner and if it gets that approval the company expects to award a contract for the new vessels in 2020.
This article originally appeared here.