VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — As British Columbians look for staycation options they are clogging up BC Ferries routes mandated to prioritize essential goods and resident travel during COVID-19.
“It is absolutely absurd. We’re looking at one and two sailing waits for just about every daytime ferry. This is unprecedented,” says Jim Abram, the Electoral Area representative for Strathcona Regional District, Discover Islands, Mainland Inlets.
He says the traffic is far outweighing normal summertime patterns at a time when the province has mandated BC Ferries put residents first.
He says people who work in Campbell River at the hospital, schools and elsewhere can’t make it to their shifts on time without leaving two sailings ahead.
“Which is ridiculous when you’re, you know, supposed to start work at 8 o’clock in the morning,” says Abram. (The first Ferry to Campbell River from Quadra Island is 6:15 am).
“It also makes it difficult for people trying to make medical appointments,” he says.
Abram and others are calling for the province to force BC Ferries to abide by an emergency order given by Transportation Minister Mike Farnworth earlier in the pandemic that was meant to protect islanders and people who commute by ferry.
“We have a ministerial order in place … that states that residents on the islands will have priority both boarding, that’s going both ways. That is in place. That is given to BC Ferries to put it in place and make it work. Our minister seems to think that it’s totally up to BC Ferries to make that work,” explains Abram.
He says the onus is on the province and ministry to enforce its order and provide BC Ferries with operational support if needed.
“That means BC Ferries, as tough s it will be for management, they have to find a way to make it work.”
Abram praises BC Ferries terminal staff for “trying to make it work for everyone” and says he’s spoken with some workers who feel their employer could enact and enforce the ministerial order, addin the regional district has been in contact with the province as well.
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall says volume wasn’t an issue during the initial stages of social distancing regulations, which kept most people at home for months. However, now that the province is in Phase 3 of its Restart Plan, traffic has increased.
“Now that traffic is coming back and the province has lifted ‘non-essential’ travel (guidelines) it is becoming an issue on many routes,” she told Canada’s National Observer.
NEWS 1130 has reached out to BC Ferries to confirm why residents are not being boarded first on all routes, like those to Cortes and Quadra Islands, as they are on Sunshine Coast routes.
Residents say they have had to wait up to two hours to board a ferry while travelling for medical appointments or to get essential goods like groceries.
Meanwhile, the Coast Reporter is reporting that some residents are seeing non-locals lie to skip the lineup as ID is not required to prove residency.
Abram would like to see some sailing designated for locals only each morning and evening to accommodate commuters.