Despite pandemic, B.C. Ferries prepares for busy long weekend

There won’t be any stuffing on B.C. Ferries this Thanksgiving.

Crammed departure lounges in ferry terminal buildings are a thing of the past. But B.C. Ferries is still advising foot passengers to arrive early, check the weather and bring an umbrella if necessary on this historically busy weekend.

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In an advisory Tuesday, the corporation said some foot passengers might be required to line up outside because it can’t permit crowding in its foot passenger areas.

“We have to allow for physical-distancing,” said communications manager Tessa Humphries.

Weekend travel on the ferries has been popular and Thanksgiving is one of the busiest travel weekends of the year, she said.

“But with many university and college students studying online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s hard to say how busy the ferries will be,” Humphries said.

Vehicle traffic is down approximately 20 per cent and passenger traffic is down approximately 30 per cent, but Humphries expects it will be a busy weekend.

B.C. Ferries is advising people to make a reservation or expect a sailing wait. Foot passengers may also experience a sailing wait, said Humphries.

“We do have enough capacity to meet the demand,” she said. “We know there will be some sailing waits and we understand that is frustrating.”

This year, from Thursday to Tuesday, the corporation has added more than 60 additional sailings on the Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay route. Last year, from Thursday Oct. 10 to Tuesday Oct. 15, there were 74 extra sailings on the route, said Humphries.

If some sailings reach a certain passenger limit, B.C. Ferries will open up additional spaces that were closed, like the Pacific Buffet and the Seawest Lounge, said Humphries. Those areas were closed to limit the amount of cleaning and because fewer people were taking the ferry.

All passengers are required to wear masks or face coverings on board and in the terminal. Customers who cannot wear a mask due to a medical condition may be asked to provide a medical certificate.

B.C. Ferries is also hoping to shift some traffic from its more popular sailings to less popular sailings such as the 6:30 a.m. sailings on the Horseshoe Bay - Departure Bay routes.

Limited hot food and other items will be available on some vessels and routes. People are encouraged to grab a bite, then go back to their car if it’s on the upper deck, or one of the passenger areas or the outer decks.

A Transport Canada regulation requires passengers travelling on enclosed vehicle decks to leave their vehicles during the sailing. Transport Canada is responsible for enforcing that, said Humphries.

“As the operator, it’s our duty to advise and inform our customers of the regulation and we would certainly hope and expect that our customers would comply with a federal regulation… Our staff and our crew are highly trained in the application of marine regulations like this.”

B.C. Ferries staff were not surprised when they heard from customers about their unease at leaving their vehicles during the pandemic.

“But we have many measures in place to enhance the safety that we’ve implemented since the start of COVID 19,” she said.

For full schedule information, current conditions and bookings, please visit bcferries.com.

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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