A Transport Canada regulation that requires passengers aboard ferry vessels to remain outside their vehicles goes back into effect on September 30, despite calls for exemptions during the pandemic.
On Tuesday morning, BC Ferries issued an advisory reminding customers that they will no longer be allowed to stay in their vehicle on enclosed vehicle decks.
In the spring, Transport Canada temporarily rescinded this requirement to allow passengers to stay in their vehicles as a way to maintain physical distancing from other travellers during the pandemic.
But as of September 30, passengers on BC Ferries will be required to step out of their vehicles and onto passenger decks.
“BC Ferries must comply with this Transport Canada regulation and the company supports the regulation and its intent. Enclosed car decks are spaces that represent inherent risk to the travelling public,” said BC Ferries in a statement.
But residents of British Columbia concerned about physical distancing on board ferry vessels are less supportive of the regulation—something NDP leader John Horgan addressed at an election campaign stop in Coquitlam on Tuesday morning.
“I did raise this forcefully with the federal government. I spoke to the finance minister, I spoke to the minister of intergovernmental relations and I was assured that they would take every step possible to convince Transport Canada that during a global pandemic was not the time to channel people off the car deck up onto the main decks of BC Ferries. I had agreement from both of those ministers but unfortunately, Transport Canada disagreed,” said Horgan.
“I would encourage the federal government to send delegates to the ferry terminals in British Columbia so they can give the bad news to the travelling public rather than the workers at BC Ferries.”
He went on to add that he was personally disappointed as the federal government refusing to allow an exemption for a short period of time is expected to “frustrate a lot of British Columbians”.
In a similar vein, at his campaign stop in Campbell River, BC Liberal Party leader Andrew Wilkinson said that while BC Ferries has a lot of expertise when it comes to marine safety, he would advocate for better communication on why the policy is necessary.
BC Ferries passengers whose vehicles are on upper or open car decks will still be allowed to remain in their cars, but those in enclosed vehicle decks must make their way to the main passenger decks for the duration of their trip starting September 30.
To accommodate the additional passengers on main decks, the ferry company is reopening certain parts of the vessels, like the Pacific Buffet area on the Spirit Class vessels, for seating only as a way to provide passengers more space for physical distancing.
Buffet service is not being reintroduced at this time.