SECHELT (NEWS 1130) — As British Columbians are now being encouraged to travel within the province, BC Ferries is under pressure to increase service after COVID-related cuts.
“With the sharp increase in traffic, it’s not a sustainable situation for the folks on the Sunshine Coast,” says Lori Pratt, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District.
She says because the ferries effectively connect the coast with the rest of the province, the routes are like highways — and are part of the health care system.
“It is a crucial conduit. Also when you look at the number of residents who need to go back and forth to the Lower Mainland for medical treatment, the ferries are part of our medical system.”
According to Pratt, a typical summer day would see 11 or 12 round trip sailings. She says it is now at seven. She notes the District of Sechelt has sent a letter to BC Ferries to ask that service be restored to 2019 levels.
For now, Pratt says, folks have to put up with delays.
“I believe it was the day after Father’s Day the ferries were, at one point, running two hours late.”
BC Ferries says it addressing demand on that route.
“We have added some sailings between Horseshoe Bay and the Sunshine Coast over the weekends, between June 25 and 29 and July 2 and 6, to better match capacity with demand,” says Astrid Chang with the ferry service.
Chang acknowledges traffic has been steadily increasing on that route, and often sailings are late. In addition to adding sailings for the two weekends, she says they have reopened the foot passenger walkway, which will enable passengers and cars to load the ferry at the same time.
Chang also says the company is phasing out its 50 per cent capacity limit, which was imposed in the spring to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Pratt says part of the problem is that more people are using their vehicles to access the ferry.
“We are seeing an uptick in vehicle traffic. Travellers might be choosing to avoid transit, so there’s more single occupancy vehicles taking up more deck space.”
Meantime, BC Ferries says it is adding sailings on other major routes, but it won’t be a typical summer.
“We are adding about 120 sailings a week more than we had in June, so people will notice those extra sailings,” says Chang, who points out ferry traffic is 50 per cent of what it is normally for this time of year. That’s better than it was during the spring, with traffic down 80 per cent.
The company has opened up the Tsawwassen and Nanaimo Quay markets and is offering some food services on select routes.
Travellers are still encouraged to stay in their cars, but are required to use face coverings if they venture out of their vehicles.