Ferries busy as B.C. reopens non-essential travel provincewide
VANCOUVER -- It was all hands on deck at BC Ferries Tuesday after the ban on non-essential travel within the province officially came to an end.
B.C. entered Step 2 of its COVID-19 restart plan at midnight, lifting many restrictions and once again allowing for recreational travel throughout the province.
Sailings aboard BC Ferries are expected to be fuller than they have been in months, as British Columbians take a much needed vacation or a trip to see family.
“I think it's exciting. It feels like maybe we're heading in the right direction. I think it's going to improve everyone's mental health,” said Elizabeth Chesley, a ferry passenger who was bound for Sechelt.
Many people had booked reservations well in advance of the official announcement of Step 2 in anticipation of relaxed restrictions.
“We actually booked it earlier and we had to change our plans by a day based on the travel restriction. So it worked out well though,” said Jas Kambo, who was taking his family to Gibsons.
Kambo said he was excited to finally enjoy a vacation.
“Hit a few breweries up, have dinner there. Sit and hopefully enjoy the beach weather and just relax in the sun,” he told CTV News.
Other travellers were a little more hesitant.
“I think it's good, but we still do need to be very cautious,” said Rod Brindamour, who was en route to visit friends on the Sunshine Coast.
BC Ferries suffered some technical difficulties shortly after the reopening announcement was made on Monday. The influx of eager travellers crashed its website for hours, but it appeared to be back online Tuesday.
“Hopefully those challenges are behind us and we do ask our customers for their patience if we do have some issues over the next day or so,” said Deborah Marshall of BC Ferries.
Going forward, ticket agents will no longer ask travellers what the reason for their trip is.
“The six routes that crossed regional boundaries, they were deemed for essential travel only. Now as of today, those routes are opened up to all travelers. So that includes recreational travelers,” explained Marshall Tuesday morning.
The corporation plans to have a full summer schedule with hundreds of extra sailings by the end of June.
“The most popular route in the fleet is the Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay run, but also Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay, Horseshoe Bay-Langdale. And then of course, Tsawwasssen to the Southern Gulf Islands. But generally we do see an influx of travelers throughout the fleet during the summertime,” said Marshall.
BC Ferries is operating at 70 per cent capacity for passengers at the moment, as per Transport Canada regulations.
“With vehicles, we can take the full suite on the car decks. And we will be discussing that issue with Transport Canada over the coming weeks. So hopefully we can open up and go back to 100 per cent capacity for passengers,” said Marshall.
She hopes the Saver Fare program will help reduce sailings waits during the busy summer season.
“Customers on the three major routes between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island can see discounts at off-peak periods,” she said.
She’s also encouraging travellers to make their reservation sooner, rather than later.
BC Ferries has also relaxed its mask mandate, no longer requiring them outdoors at the terminal.
Face coverings and physical distancing are still required on board vessels unless passengers are inside their own vehicles.
Many B.C. communities have been hit hard during the pandemic due to lack of tourism and are anxious to welcome people back.
However, those in the industry want people to be prepared to be patient as many businesses are still suffering from acute staffing shortages.