BC Ferries, one of the world’s largest passenger ferry services, will be allowing people to stay in their vehicles during trips, acting on a concern that passengers would not be able to self-isolate while on board.
On Monday, Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, said Transport Canada had agreed to change the safety regulation that forces people out of vehicles parked on enclosed decks. (Latitude on the issue already exists for larger vessels.)
“We do understand that people will be able to stay in their cars on the ferries in B.C. for the next coming weeks. That’s a measure that we’ve heard from the federal government will be implemented soon,” Dr. Henry told a news conference in Victoria. “That’s good news.”
She did not provide any other details. On Monday, Transport Canada did not respond to queries seeking comment.
Last week, Premier John Horgan expressed concern about the status quo on the independent commercial organization, which moves more than 20 million passengers a year among 25 routes with a fleet of about 35 vessels.
“BC Ferries has requested lenience from Transport Canada and that hasn’t been granted," Mr. Horgan told a news conference.
As he noted, federal rules mandate all passengers leave the car deck and go to the main and mezzanine decks of the ship during a trip.
He said he had outlined his concern on this point with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during a conference call that also included Canada’s other premiers and territorial leaders.
“In this instance, we want to see social distancing and if we have to direct people to leave their vehicles to congregate in smaller spaces for an hour and a half that’s not good public health policy,” Mr. Horgan said. “The PM assured me that he would discuss that with his colleagues at Transport Canada.”
BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said Monday the company had been in talks with Transport Canada for weeks to relax the restriction.
As for other measures, Ms. Marshall said in an interview that it is possible BC Ferries may close its on-board restaurants. At this point, buffets have been closed and customers receive cutlery from staff instead of selecting it themselves.
She said the challenge for BC Ferries in curbing sailings is that some passengers rely on the service. Routes are seen as a kind of highway on the province’s coastal waters.
“More important than discretionary travel, there are a lot of our customers that have to travel with us, and a lot of our customers that live in remote communities. All of their goods come over via BC Ferries so it’s very important we continue operating and keeping these smaller communities going,” she said,
Over the past weekend, service on the key Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay run – which links the Lower Mainland to a primary Vancouver Island stop north of Victoria – was reduced because of declining traffic. “We’re constantly looking at traffic numbers,” she said.
She said a total shutdown would be a “worst-case scenario.”
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