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Ferries carry 1.2 million passengers to the Toronto Islands each year. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)
Ferries carry 1.2 million passengers to the Toronto Islands each year. (Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail)

City goes digital to solve the island ferry bottleneck Add to ...

You’ve prepped your salad and sandwiches, packed your Frisbee and slopped sunscreen on your kids. You’re all set for your relaxing day at the Toronto Islands.

But before you can make your getaway, you know you must stand in line for an hour to purchase your ferry ticket. Then, you wait another 20 minutes in a crowded pen to get on a ferry after which impatient people push and shove while boarding the boat. “It’s kind of long, and especially in the heat, it’s exhausting,” said Nadine Mosallam, 18, who visits the islands on most summer weekends with her friends.

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Ms. Mosallam is one of many ferry riders who welcomes plans by the City of Toronto for an online ticket-purchasing system, to be rolled out some time in 2014. The city’s bid committee recently awarded a half-million-dollar contract to VisionMax Ltd., a company that provides technological business solutions, to implement the online system.

“This is a big step towards improving the customer experience,” said Rob Andrusevich, a spokesperson for the city’s parks, forestry and recreation department. “People will have different options to move forward and pay that ticket. There should be a time savings for them before they get to board the boat.”

The one-year contract, valued at $521,157.81, has not yet been signed. A spokesperson for VisionMax, which recently underwent a name change to Concentrix, refused to comment on the deal until the company gets official word from the city. The contract to start working on the technology for the system is expected to begin this month.

Aside from purchasing ferry tickets on a computer and on mobile devices, island-goers will also have the option to buy tickets from one of four automated kiosks – also to be installed in 2014. The bar codes on the printed tickets will be scanned by a staff person, explained Mr. Andrusevich.

This is not the first time automated kiosks have been installed. The ferry terminal had four until last year when the contract with the company providing them expired. Mr. Andrusevich did not respond to questions about why it is taking the city two years to replace them.

The ferries carry 1.2 million passengers each year. One million passengers ride them from May to September. Councillor Adam Vaughan, who represents the area where the ferry docks are located, said he has received some complaints about the waiting times.

“The real thing that slows people down is counting out change and how many people you’re with and dot dot dot. So, hopefully, this will make it a lot faster. This will make it a lot better,” said Mr. Vaughan.

The councillor said that the islands are a go-to destination for tourists, newcomers to Canada, and other people who don’t have a cottage to escape the city buzz.

“You go and spend half a day there, you feel like you’ve been out of the city for the entire weekend. … As the city has grown and changed, the one thing which remains is people’s love of the islands. The trouble is the technology getting people through the turnstiles and onto the ferry hasn’t changed. This is a great innovation that will make life easy getting on and off the ferry,” said Mr. Vaughan.

Paul Tyrrell, 60, lives in Burlington. He likes to picnic on the islands at least once a year with his family. He said that an online ticket-purchasing system will be a lot more convenient and help avoid long lineups.

“I try to do as much as I can online because it’s much more convenient,” said Mr. Tyrrell. “That’s the way of the future. It’s like getting a boarding pass at the airport, which you can do now on your smartphone.”

The city’s parks, forestry and recreation department is eyeing other improvements as well to the ferry service. Last year, it started a reserve fund to purchase a new vessel with a larger passenger capacity.

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