Transportation » An Integrated, Multi-modal Network

A transportation service for the Southern Gulf Islands is strategic priority for the Capital Regional District and a key component of the CESC’s Experience the Gulf Islands. The objective is to facilitate the movement of residents, visitors and goods on Islands and between the Southern Gulf Islands, Salt Spring Island, and Vancouver Island through multi-modal transportation options, including regional trails for pedestrians and cyclists, community trails, community bus service, and inter-island passenger-only ferry service. The goal is to assist in growing the local economy while minimizing environmental concerns related to single-occupancy vehicles.


A transportation service for the Southern Gulf Islands continues to be a strategic priority for the CRD, and will be pursued through 2020. However, that goal is currently delayed as a result of prioritizing Covid-19 response, which has taken centre stage and has required resource reallocations since March.

In May 2018, the CESC requested that the CRD create a Transportation Commission for the Southern Gulf Islands Electoral Area. The CESC motion specified the new CRD SGI Transportation Commission have representatives from Galiano, Mayne, Pender and Saturna Islands with a mandate to oversee and coordinate the transportation initiatives relating to on-island and inter-island transportation, trails, and bikeways and liaising with the SGI Harbours Commission and with island-based Parks and Recreation Commissions regarding trails. The Commission would also be responsible for liaising with SGI-wide organizations such as the SGI Trails Society. The May 2019 Electoral Area Committee’s staff report on the subject can be read here.


At the initiative of Director Howe, the Capital Regional District (CRD) Board wrote the Province to request a strategy and plan for ongoing coordination between BC Ferries, BC Transit and the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure road infrastructure planning to achieve integrated, low carbon and active transportation solutions for the Southern Gulf Islands and Salt Spring Island. The letter states “We are looking for a provincial plan of action that will advance ongoing cooperation and coordination, and will:

  • support public transit on the Southern Gulf Islands to parallel the very successful BC Transit service that operates on Salt Spring Island;

  • provide seamless integration of water and land transit systems with public transit in neighbouring metropolitan centres at the Tsawwassen, Swartz Bay and Crofton ferry terminals;

  • promote and support active and public BC Ferry transportation alternatives for visitors to the islands; and

  • investment in active transportation road improvements and cycling infrastructure on the islands.”

Community Bus Service

The islands of Mayne, Saturna, Pender and Galiano have each completed a community bus pilot project, and are in their third to fifth year of service provision. Organizational structures and service models vary by island.


The Mayne Island Community Bus was licensed August 2015 using a donated used bus and funded by private donations. In January 2018, the CRD funded the purchase of a new bus with seating for 24 passengers. The Mayne Island Bus Society (MIBS) uses volunteers to operate a morning bus service Thursday through Saturday, all year-round. Ridership for 2019 was 3,347 passengers, approximately 60% who were visitors, 40% residents.


On Saturna Island the community shuttle is also in its fifth year of operations. The service is owned by the Saturna Lions Club and operates using volunteer drivers. Recently, the original 21 passenger shuttle was sold and replaced with two 7-passenger vans, which only require a class 5 license to drive, and increases the pool of volunteer drivers. Due to Saturna's relatively small population, paratransit service (call/text/email to request service) has proven more effective than a fixed schedule, and the vans average 3 trips per week. Ridership for 2019 was approximately 1000 passengers. The service is free, but donations can be made to the Lions Club.


On Galiano Island, the Galiano Islands Community Transportation Society (GICTS) applied for a CRD grant to purchase an 18 passenger bus and a seven passenger minivan for their pilot project. Starting in 2017, the bus has offered a regular scheduled service Friday and Saturdays from April through September. Ridership for 2019 was approximately 780 passengers, 90% of whom were visitors to the island. Fares were initially by donation, but since 2019 fixed fares have been charged depending on trip length.

In January, 2018, the Mayne Island Bus Society acquired a newer and larger bus. Through a grant authorized by CRD, SGI Director David Howe, the Mayne Island Bus Society has purchased this 24 passenger bus. The Directors of the Bus Society thank Dynamic Specialty Vehicles Ltd. of Surrey BC for their exceptional service and their volunteer drivers who make this service possible.

On North Pender Island, Moving Around Pender (MAP) received a grant to purchase a 21 passenger, former BC Transit vehicle. In August 2016, they launched their 2.5 year pilot project to demonstrate feasibility. Since then, the service has varied depending on the season and availability of volunteer drivers, but typically the bus runs 2-4 days per week, for 10-12hrs each day. In 2019, bus service was reduced to the 10 week summer season only and carried 1079 passengers. This is compared to 2018 when the bus operated year-round, and served 3,260 passengers. One innovative feature of the Pender Island community bus service is that the location of the bus can be tracked using a live tracker. At present, fares are by donation. 


In 2017 the CRD, using funding provided by the UBCM Strategic Priorities fund, contracted with Richard Drdul to prepare a report outlining the regulatory, licensing and insurance requirements for community bus services operated by societies. He worked with Galiano Island Community Transportation Society and Moving Around Pender to provide recommendations for their pilot projects.


Gulf Islands Regional Trails Plan Update

Initial public engagement occurred in the Spring 2017 and input received at that time helped inform the development of the draft plan.  A second round of engagement was held between mid-July and early October to receive comments from the public, First Nations and other government agencies on the draft plan. 

Between October and December 2017, all comments received from the public were reviewed and considered.

This plan was approved by the CRD Board in March 2018. Given that the plan proposes five new regional trails (50 km) be developed over six islands, it notes that implementation is likely to take decades to fully achieve. The GIRTP notes an intent to develop the regional trails within the provincial road dedications.

The initial two priorities identified in the GIRTP are to seek external grant funding for construction of the Mayne Island Regional Trail, as a demonstration project for developing regional trails in the Gulf Islands and to seek external grant funding for the design of four initial regional trail segments on Salt Spring, North Pender, Galiano and Saturna Islands.

Community Trails

Local community trails have been provided on all islands through initiatives of Parks and Recreation Commissions on each islands as well as local trail groups such as Galiano Trails Society and Moving Around Pender. The Commission trails are located on Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) road rights-of-way pursuant to a Letter of Agreement between MoTI and the Islands Trust. 

Gulf Islands Regional Trails Plan

The CRD is currently developing a plan for future regional trails on the Gulf Islands.  This plan identifies a conceptual route for a regional trail on each of Galiano, Mayne, North and South Pender, Salt Spring and Saturna Islands, and provides direction to guide implementation and trail development.

The routes will generally connect ferry terminals to key destinations such as parks or commercial hubs, and over the long term the network of trails on the islands will benefit the region by providing more opportunities for recreation and active transportation. 

As a first step, in July 2018, the CRD applied for a grant through the BC Rural Dividend Program, to assist with development of engineering designs for initial sections of the three future regional trails in the Southern Gulf Islands Electoral Area (North Pender, Galiano and Saturna).


In March 2019, the Province confirmed that the CRD was a successful applicant. In the fall, the CRD undertook a Request for Proposal process to seek a consulting firm to undertake the project and, in January 2020, Herold Engineering began the project. Site visits with the consultant, subcontractors and CRD staff were conducted to do an initial consideration of which side of the road appeared more feasible for the trail.  Subsequently, survey work was done to identify the extent of the road dedication and challenge areas, among other things,  for the base maps for the designs.

Once completed, the project will allow the CRD to begin capital planning for these future trails and will position the CRD to be ready, when the time comes, to apply for grant funding for construction as set out in the GIRTP. For more information about the GIRTP, click here.

The agreement outlines road standards and classification on park lands acquired through dedication by subdivision approvals and on undeveloped road allowances via a Licence of Occupation.  In addition, the trail groups have worked with landowners to provide trails across private lands under an agreement and with the group or society providing liability coverage.

Inter-island Passenger-Only Ferries

The Southern Gulf Islands are highly dependent on service provided by the B.C. Ferries. While the B.C. government scrutinizes the cost of service delivery and travellers baulk at the cost of ferry service, the islands themselves feel the negative impact of schedule changes and cost increases.

The Salish Sea Inter-Island Transportation Society provides oversight for the annual Tour des Isles event, during which, the Southern Gulf Islands are connected by small commercial foot passenger vessels. The three-day event welcomes thousands of passengers from Galiano, Mayne, Saturna, Pender and Salt Spring Islands with local water taxis providing service between CRD docks on each Island.  In some cases, local businesses or societies provide on-island transport to meet the boats.

In 2016, the CRD contracted KPFF Consulting Engineers to hold a workshop to discuss the regulatory, licensing and insurance requirements for an inter-island, passenger-only ferry service, as well as supporting infrastructure, operational models and financial implications. The workshop also provided an opportunity for existing water taxi providers to outline their services and discuss challenges. Participants scoped out the vision for a potential long term passenger ferry service as well as the parameters for a pilot project.  The results of the workshop are available here.

All rights reserved. 2020 Southern Gulf Island Economic Development Commission.