Updated: Nov 16, 2022
Bringing deep expertise in shipbuilding and ferry operations, Campbell is determined to change the paradigm of ferry travel in BC
Callum Campbell remembers, as a young professional, when he first unrolled some of the original paper drawings for Vancouver’s iconic SeaBus ferry system. He had been given the task of working on a particular SeaBus upgrade, and was expecting to see a drawing of a ship. But what he found in the drawings was an entire transportation system: terminals, gangways, and portals to onward modes of transportation. That moment made him realize that ferry transportation wasn't just about travelling over water -- it was about navigating a complex end-to-end journey that served a very personal purpose for the rider. It occurred to Campbell that even though from today's perspective SeaBus seems an inevitable part of Vancouver's infrastructure, back in the 1970s someone had to think through all aspects of the journey from the rider's perspective, then muster the vision and the conviction to make it a reality.
Now a naval architect and Professional Engineer with two decades’ experience, Campbell has spent the past 8 years building ships and overseeing operations for the inland ferry fleet of the BC Government. He recently left the position to start Greenline, a ferry company with a mission to unlock the coastal transport systems that BC needs to thrive. He lives in Victoria with his wife Kristina and two children.
Campbell answers some questions here about how he hopes Greenline will change the way British Columbians think about ferry travel.
What do you want to achieve with Greenline?
We want to offer new coastal travel options for those ready to travel another way. We plan to launch a new, high-speed, all-electric, passenger-only ferry service into BC. Electric ferry technology has finally advanced to the point where we’re able to connect Gibsons to downtown Vancouver in about 65 minutes, and Bowen Island to downtown in about 40 minutes. We want to leverage this technology to get people more efficiently to where they really want to go, without having to make the long drive to a distant suburban ferry terminal every time.
What’s wrong with car ferries?
Car ferries are great! I grew up in Maple Ridge, and vividly remember looking forward to taking the Albion Ferry as a kid. Part of growing up in BC is having an emotional connection to ferries, because taking a ferry trip meant having an adventure. But back then, it never occurred to us to question how the ferry system was set up – the fun experience of travelling by car ferry with the practicality of getting somewhere were intertwined. I think car ferries should continue to exist, but in today’s context, that people should have the option to get somewhere on the BC coast more quickly and efficiently than a car ferry allows.
In jurisdictions around the world, a network of passenger-only ferries works alongside the car ferry system. BC needs to follow suit.
What’s the urgency of making this happen?
This endeavour is urgent for several reasons. My children are 8 and 10, and every day I think about the world they are going to inherit. I look at the news and see evidence of how climate change is affecting us in so many ways – and I’m determined to show my kids how to bring about the paradigm shift that’s needed to put the world on a better course.
Not only that: BC is growing steadily, and remote work is allowing people to live outside of the province’s urban cores. So I see the overall demand for ferry travel continuing to increase. The current plan in place to address this is building more car ferries for existing routes, a solution that is slow and expensive. I want to meet the need with a different solution that overcomes those limitations.
How do you know people will use passenger-only ferries?
For 60 years, car ferries have been the main way for people to get around the coast. But today, of the tens of millions who take the car ferry every year, a significant number don’t travel with a car. I think we have to ask: why are we funneling all of those people through a car ferry service when it would be faster, cheaper, and more efficient to take them another way?
Through my work in government, I was present at some town-hall meetings that really highlighted how important the ferries are to BC communities. Just before the pandemic hit, I served the then-Minister of Transportation in a consultation on coastal ferry service, followed up by an online survey of nearly 5,000 people. The results are publicly available: for many, car ferry service is slow, expensive, and overloaded at peak times. There is a clear willingness to travel car-free, provided the right conditions are met.
Others have attempted passenger-only ferry service in the past. Why are you uniquely equipped to succeed?
Perhaps in the past, private operators treated this as a simple business endeavour – put some ships in the water and charge a fare. But it’s not: it has to work for First Nations; it has to pull together the right technology and user experience; it has to meet the needs of communities; and it has to align with climate goals. Only through my experience in government and working with many stellar colleagues was I able to understand how to move forward with these complex, overlapping aims, to bring a new solution to British Columbians. I’m energized by this approach and ready to pull in the diverse expertise needed to make it happen.
What are your next steps in building Greenline?
Currently we’re seeking input from members of BC communities that are served by ferries – particularly those in greater Vancouver as well as the Sunshine Coast and Bowen Island. Those community members can contribute to our survey here: www.greenlineferries.com/survey.
Meanwhile, we’ve accessed some data from a company that uses mobile phone location tracking to show what ferry trips people are actually taking in BC. We’re using this to build a model of what ridership will look like, so we can shape our ferry service accordingly. It’s going to give us the most accurate ridership model ever created for ferry travel in BC, which will help us know what gaps we need to fill and will put us on the route to success.