Home Organizations & Associations BC Ferries INSIGHTS: riding the ferry before & during Step 2

INSIGHTS: riding the ferry before & during Step 2

bc ferries
BC Ferries has resumed an active sailing schedule for summer 2021. [Island Social Trends | Jalen Codrington]

Thursday June 24, 2021 | VICTORIA, BC

OPINION: by Jalen C Codrington | Island Social Trends

Recreational travel is now allowed for British Columbians within the province, as part of the Step 2 of BC Restart. Accordingly, all BC Ferries routes have reopened for all types of travel.

Recently, I had the chance to take the ferry for essential reasons during the ban, and again after the travel restrictions had been lifted.

Before the restart: Swartz Bay – Tsawwassen:

Aside from the blinking sign over the freeway that reads essential travel only, taking the ferry a few weeks ago was really no different than it always was. At the terminal, there was a bit of a wait, so I assumed there was some Orwellian security screening unfolding before me. When it came time to drive up and pay, I was shocked to see the ticket agent wasn’t wearing a mask. She didn’t even ask if my travel was essential. I assumed she was trying to get me onboard as fast as possible so I wouldn’t miss the loading (which I appreciated, regardless).

physical distancing, bc ferries
Physical distancing signage on the seating on a BC Ferries vessel, June 2021. [Jalen Codrington | Island Social Trends]

Onboard the ferry, every-second chair was marked out-of-commission by a COVID sign. Most of the food services were dark and taped off. A lot of people stayed in their cars. I’ve taken the ferry numerous times during the pandemic; it’s just about the same as it always is.

I sat on the sundeck. Everyone took their masks off — including me — to breathe the fresh air of travelling amidst the Gulf Islands. Unbeknownst to me, you’re supposed to have your mask on up there. But nobody really cared. Staff passing by didn’t say anything.

As always, BCFerries requested that all drivers return to their vehicles a few minutes earlier so that the crew has time to disinfect the common areas.

And that was it. I supposed that crew members were just tired. They’d been dancing to the COVID tune for over a year.

In Step 2 of the restart: Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay

For some reason, the ticket agent on the way back (now in Step 2) was more inquisitive than when travel had been essential. She asked me three questions, the last of which makes me chuckle: Have I travelled outside of Canada recently? Do I have my mask? And finally, am I transporting any gas or propane? I think about that last one. In my fuel tank, I guess.

My first assumption is with more people now taking the ferries, they’re doubling down on their COVID procedures to be safe. It’s also possible my sample size for this commentary is just too small – leaving Swartz Bay, I happened to get one of the laxer agents, and leaving Tsawwassen, I got one of the stricter ones. Or maybe they only ask questions to every second or third person, like liquor store clerks ID-ing customers.

bc ferries, car
Waiting to board, at the BC Ferries terminal. [Jalen Codrington | Island Social Trends]

Regardless, bookings soared on the weekend of June 18-20, as a result of the province’s Step 2 of reopening, which went into effect on June 15. So in terms of wait times, I was expecting the worst.

But, it’s the 2 pm sailing on a Wednesday. It’s predominantly seniors on this ferry. Most of the seats are empty. I moseyed on up to the terminal 15 minutes before the departure and I still made it onboard with no worries.

Thursday and Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings are the most popular travel times to depart the mainland, while Sunday afternoon is the busiest time for travellers returning to the mainland.  

I go up on the sundeck again. As per usual, everyone prefers to smell the ocean air rather than the inside of their masks.  

When it came time to offload, they didn’t ask drivers to return to their cars early. I’m not sure if crew are still disinfecting the seating areas in that time.

BC Ferries rebounding:

During the height of COVID (April 2020 to March 2021), BC Ferries carried 13.1 million passengers and 6.7 million vehicles, a decrease of 40 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively, compared to the fiscal year that ended March 31, 2020.

The corporation reported it received $308 million in COVID recovery subsidies from federal and provincial governments; this was largely achieved by the Horgan NDP government pushing for affordability for passengers and maintenance of the essential travel service that ferries are for islanders.

The company has now returned to 100 per cent capacity, and added additional sailings to accommodate the peak travel times of summer.

Summer schedule:

The BC Ferries summer schedule sees vessels on the Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route sailing hourly from 7 am-7 pm, and there will also be more late-night sailings in both directions. Starting July 7, 6 am sailings will be added Monday through Saturday except statutory holidays. Four vessels work that route, providing up to 34 sailings per day.

If the BC ferries website crashing within hours of the travel ban being lifted is any indication, it seems safe to say this will be quite the summer for travel.

However, people travelling should remember that COVID-19 and its variants aren’t going anywhere. Public health officials have made it clear that the COVID-19 virus is permanently part of the respiratory infection season, joining the likes of the common cold and influenza.

===== About the writer:

Jalen Codrington, Island Social Trends
Jalen C Codrington is the Copy Desk Editor with Island Social Trends in summer 2021.

Jalen C Codrington is a fourth-year University of Victoria student (English & Philosophy) who is working as the Copy Desk Editor with Island Social Trends in summer 2021.

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