COLUMN: A tide of ferry woes

Road signage approaching ferries and prices need to be addressed.

It’s been seven years since I took a trip on BC Ferries, but last week offered a chance to head over to Vancouver Island for a short vacation.

It didn’t take long to reach a few conclusions – in fact, one of them came easily, even before reaching the Tsawwassen terminal. I used Highway 10 and Ladner Trunk Road, the usual route, to get to Highway 17. Unfortunately, a large truck had flipped and spilled its load, closing the highway completely.

There was no advance warning signs along the road, nor was there much attempt to unclog traffic at the busy Ladner Trunk/Highway 17 intersection. While police were on hand, they seemed content to leave traffic control to the existing traffic lights, even though they were not allowing any vehicles on Highway 17 south of the intersection.

Many people who usually use that route had no idea how to get around the tie-up, and headed into downtown Ladner, where finding a road to head south to Tsawwassen isn’t obvious.

I was fortunate enough to know an easy bypass route, using Harvest Drive and Arthur Drive and made it to the ferry terminal easily. Few others did – the terminal was almost deserted and the ferry left with about a one-third load.

There is a need for advance updates for ferry traffic on Highways 99, 10 and 91 in Delta. People on their way to the ferry terminal could have been advised of alternate routes, or even advised of the length of the delays. There are update signs for border crossings in place now.

Another reason the ferry was so empty was undoubtedly the price. At a cost of $80 for two people and a regular vehicle, a ferry trip has become a luxury. That’s too bad, because there are so many interesting things to do on the island and tourism has been an important part of the economy. BC Ferries has been run like a business – not a bad thing – but the main Vancouver-Victoria  and Vancouver-Nanaimo routes have been used as cash cows to subsidize smaller routes. This punishes many people who would like to make a trip but simply can’t afford to.

A sure sign of how price has affected travel is in the large number of foot passengers. I picked up some foot passengers at the Swartz Bay terminal and was amazed at the huge volume of travellers who go by foot and get rides or catch a bus on the other end. This is particularly impressive, considering the poor bus service to the Tsawwassen terminal.

Delta has at times complained about the volumes of traffic from the ferry terminal and the port, but all that traffic is money that helps to fuel the B.C. economy. It is in the best interests of all B.C. residents to have an efficient and affordable ferry system. It also helps the province to stay better connected.

BC Ferries has done many things right in recent years, but there is a need to take a closer look at fares on the major routes. The corporation also needs to consider working with the ministry of transportation to let its customers know if they are likely to get tied up due to a traffic issue. If they have reservations and then miss the ferry, that’s a major problem for both the customer and the corporation.

B.C. residents, even those who rarely use the ferries, need to be sure that the provincial government is handling this issue correctly.

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