A Vancouver Island Member of Parliament is asking the federal and provincial governments for stricter limitations on ferry travel, even as BC Ferries take steps to reassure the public that a “full ferry” does not mean what it used to.
The ferry corporation issued a statement Saturday in the wake of widespread public concern due to the volume of Good Friday traffic.
“The new temporary Transport Canada regulations say we can carry 50 per cent of the normal maximum passenger license limits. We are following in accordance with these new regulations,” said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.
“For example, a Spirit Class vessel is usually licensed to carry 2100 passengers and crew, so now the maximum would be 1050 passengers and crew. Yesterday for example, the highest passenger count on a Spirit Class was 408 passengers on the 5 pm sailing from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen (39 per cent of new limit).
“We are seeing a huge reduction in the number of customers travelling with us. Please ensure you make this distinction in your stories. Your assistance is appreciated.
Paul Manly, Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, wrote to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier John Horgan and federal and provincial ministers on Friday, April 10, asking that the government restrict non-essential travel “and enforce that restriction.”
“It is clear that too many people are ignoring the directive from both levels of government to stay at home,” Manly wrote. “There can be no justification for a rise in ferry ridership during a long weekend in a public health emergency. This can no longer just be a request for people to stay home.”
Manly cited concern for Vancouver Island residents who he said “have done a great job” of following direction from health authorities and have helped to ‘flatten the curve’ of COVID-19 cases.
Earlier this month, B.C. Ferries announced major service cuts that included suspending all sailings to and from Departure Bay terminal and halving regular passenger service to and from Duke Point terminal. The ferry corporation said traffic was down about 80 per cent during the pandemic.
On Good Friday, April 10, the 12:45 p.m. vessel from Tsawwassen to Duke Point sailed at full capacity, according to B.C. Ferries.
“The coast isn’t going anywhere and neither should you. Please don’t travel if it’s not essential,” the ferry corporation posted on social media. “Per Transport Canada, we’re screening for COVID-19. We don’t have authority/direction to stop healthy travellers. We need you to stay home.”
B.C. Ferries is asking passengers to remain in their vehicles during sailings and to physically distance from other passengers and staff members when accessing other decks. It is also screening passengers and is authorized to deny boarding to those with certain symptoms.
Ferries president and CEO Mark Collins told the News Bulletin last month that if passengers present themselves for travel, B.C. Ferries has a mandate to carry them.
“It’s not for us to decide whether or not a marine highway stays open or closed…” he said. “It’s not B.C. Ferries’ role to make such a decision. If the public health authorities or government were to make that decision, we would certainly help facilitate it; we would do our utmost to co-operate.”
Nanaimo MLA Sheila Malcolmson told the News Bulletin last month that any order limiting non-essential travel would be based on science and would come from the provincial health officer.
“It will not be a political decision,” she said.
A Change.org petition seeking restricted access to Vancouver Island has garnered more than 10,500 signatures. The petition calls on BC Ferries to limit passengers to essential services only and “implement restricted access for residents who are trying to return home to their families.”
“This needs to work both ways,”writes petition author Brownwen Blunt. “Residents from Vancouver Island shouldn’t be travelling to the mainland if it’s not essential.”
During a Saturday news conference, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said she had been in contact with BC Ferries about long weekend travellers.
“They did confirm that they are only seeing a fraction of the traffic that they would normally on this weekend,” Henry said. “I am heartened that, I think most people are doing what we need to do. They are staying home and looking after their family. They’re taking care of their neighbours. They’re managing this challenging time staying close to home and staying a safe distance from others.”
With files from Nina Grossman.