A ferry pulls up to the Skidegate Landing terminal. (File/Haida Gwaii Observer)

A ferry pulls up to the Skidegate Landing terminal. (File/Haida Gwaii Observer)

Islanders want BC Ferries to follow order that lets residents board before tourists

For ferry-dependent communities, ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

  • Jul. 12, 2020 3:30 p.m.

By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

B.C. islanders are feeling trapped and calling for action on a Covid-19 measure that allows residents to board ferries first as the summer tourist season heats up.

Gruelling sailing waits in B.C.’s Discovery Islands have surged again, as the province relaxes guidelines on non-essential travel as part of its COVID-19 reopening plan.

Quadra Island resident Sarah Johnston says the return to two-sailing wait-times means the 20-minute crossing to Campbell River is now often a four-hour journey or more for essential goods or medical appointments.

“It’s crazy,” Johnston said of the ferry traffic that regularly spills out of the parking lot and holding lanes, and up the hill from the terminal into Quadra’s road ways.

“If this is what we’re seeing in a summer with travel restrictions, imagine what will it be like in the future.”

And for neighbouring Cortes Island residents negotiating a two-ferry journey, the waits are even longer.

For ferry-dependent communities such as Quadra and Cortes, located off Vancouver Island’s northeast coast ­— and for a score of other coastal communities in British Columbia — ferries are often the sole practical lifeline to work, school or medical appointments.

But BC Ferries is not acting on a temporary emergency ministerial order that permits residents priority boarding, and which the Ministry of Transport confirms is in place.

Johnston said she typically takes measures to avoid peak hours, but some issues make travelling during busy sailings unavoidable.

“Last summer I was dealing with numerous medical appointments with my dad who was suffering from a serious medical condition,” Johnston said.

“He wasn’t able to sit in a car comfortably for long periods of time, and that made it really hard.”

READ MORE: Departure Bay ferry capacity increases to 70%, says BC Ferries

They did their best to avoid rush hours, but medical appointments typically fell into peak travelling periods, she said.

Johnston wants BC Ferries to offer island residents preferred boarding currently allowed under Ministerial Order (MO84) due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Johnston has asked about the priority boarding option at the ticket booth in Campbell River on several occasions. Attendants provided a variety of explanations why it wasn’t being offered, such as inadequate staffing levels and logistical issues, such as insufficient holding areas in smaller terminals, Johnston said.

“I don’t see why it’s that big an issue,” Johnston said, adding that preferred boarding measures wouldn’t have to be for every occasion or sailing.

She’d like to see a “get out of jail free” pass issued to residents on a once weekly basis for essential or unavoidable travel.

“I’m sure part of the resistance is, if they did it under the order and it succeeded, what reason would they have not to continue into the future,” she said.

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall confirmed that residents and essential goods and workers are temporarily being given priority on sailings during the state of emergency due to the pandemic.

“It wasn’t an issue in the beginning of the pandemic, because our traffic had completely fallen off,” Marshall stated in an email Tuesday.

“Now that traffic is coming back and the province has lifted ‘non-essential’ travel (guidelines) it is becoming an issue on many routes.”

But Marshall did not clarify why priority boarding wasn’t being offered to Discovery Island residents, as it has been on other routes such as the Sunshine Coast.

The BC Ferries website states customers will be asked at check-in if they qualify for priority boarding. The website also recommends people make reservations if they want to ensure priority on a specific sailing.

However, reservations aren’t available on smaller routes serving Quadra and Cortes islands and other island communities in the inside passage between the mainland and Vancouver Island.

Quadra Island regional director Jim Abram said it is clear islanders should be getting preferential boarding.

“The ministerial order is very clear that residents have priority loading as long as we’re in a state of emergency,” Abram said.

Workarounds are likely possible to logistical issues, he said.

“We have really good people working at the booth, and they are always careful about loading properly,” he said.

“They are very creative and can probably find ways to hold (vehicles).”

Priority boarding exists for those with urgent medical emergencies and Cortes residents already get preferential boarding to Campbell River twice a week on a morning sailing, Abram noted.

It shouldn’t be out of the question to make similar arrangements for Quadra residents, he added.

Residents regularly using the ferries ultimately pay more toward operational costs, Abram said.

“We pay taxes, but we also pay a healthly fare towards the operation,” he said. “We’re being double dinged as residents.”

High-season traffic makes it difficult for residents to get to work, appointments or attend business, he added.

“It is almost impossible to use the ferry system when it is completely clogged with non-residents,” Abram said, noting the current focus on staycations has brought more and larger vehicles with campers, boats and RVs to the island.

“We have accommodated and welcomed tourists, and we still do, but the situation just happens to have changed… we are in a worldwide pandemic.”

Noba Anderson, Cortes Island regional director, said calls for priority boarding aren’t necessarily universal, but many islanders have been requesting the service for years.

“We’ve always been told (by BC Ferries) a customer, is a customer, is a customer,” Anderson said.

“It would be a very interesting trial to see if they can do it, and if they can, it would be important to have a more in-depth conversation about whether it can be implemented moving forward.”

But not all residents agree with the notion of preferred boarding.

Quadra resident and retired BC Ferries captain John Arnold said everybody feels they have a justifiable reason to get on the ferry before someone else.

Everyone who chooses to live on the islands knows ferry waits in summer have been an issue for decades, he added.

“(It’s like) someone building a tree house and then demanding someone else supply the ladder,” Arnold said.

He suggested residents are best served by adapting practical measures, such as leaving a second, cheap car across the water and walking on board.

“I only go when I have to, consolidate errands as much as possible, and the number one rule is to go and get back early,” Arnold said.

He also thinks it would be a logistical nightmare for attendants at the smaller terminals to organize priority boarding.

Quadra resident Alan Atkinson was one of many travellers stranded in a long vehicle backup that snaked its way out of the Quathiaski Cove ferry terminal on Thursday.

But he still feels first come, first served is the fairest option.

“We’re all paying the same taxes for the system,” Atkinson said.

He noted he was heading to Campbell River to shop, but could have come for a less crowded sailing.

“I don’t necessarily have to be here right now,” he said.

Transportation Minister and local MLA Claire Trevena also confirmed that the ministerial order was in place.

The province has the expectation the order be acted on, but operational issues fall to BC Ferries, Trevena said Friday.

“We’d hope BC Ferries would be respecting the order, but there is always what the implementation is on the ground,” she said.

BC Ferries must balance both commercial and public interests when making operational decisions, Trevena said.

Priority boarding is a temporary measure under the order, and caution needs to be exercised to avoid pitting residents against tourists, especially given many coastal economies such as Quadra are reliant on tourism, she added.

“We want to avoid getting a battle about that,” Trevena said.

“We know coastal communities are reliant on BC Ferries,” she said.

“We as a government are committed to system that serves B.C. residents, but that also includes every B.C. business.”


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

bc ferryBCFerriesCoronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

“Say cheese, uh, apple… nine-year-old Jason Moran and mum Bonnie are all smiles over a number of sales made during “apple day” of local cubs and beavers. Jason, a wolf cub, was one of 22 boys who, with the ready assistance of mothers, sold several boxes of apples in money-raising scheme for various projects.” (<em>The Lake News</em> Nov. 26, 1980)
Flashback: Crime wave, canoe misfortune and a highway lawsuit

Welcome to Lake Flashback. Reporter Sarah Simpson has been combing through old… Continue reading

Tim Schewe
Drivesmart column: Following too closely

Maintaining a buffer in front of your vehicle gives you time to recover from inattention

Sonia Furstenau
Sonia Furstenau column: MLA vows to keep up the fight

COVID-19 continues to strain our communities

Heating cable laid in the cold frame, awaiting the layer of sand. (Mary Lowther photo)
Mary Lowther column: Greenhouse growing in the winter

I have a heating cable I’ve never used that I’m contemplating putting to work in the cold frame

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement forecasting windy weather Sunday and Monday. (News Bulletin file photo)
More windy weather on the way for Vancouver Island

Environment Canada issues special weather statement for Victoria, east coast of Island, north Island

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

Vees goalkeeper Yaniv Perets stands watch while Tyler Ho takes the puck around the back of the net on Nov. 7. The BCHL press release did not name the player who tested positive.(Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Penticton Vees quarantining after player tests positive for COVID-19

The team, staff and billets are isolating while they are tested

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Most Read