Transport Canada won't budge on ferry-deck regulation

Transport Canada appears to be unwilling to reconsider allowing passengers to remain in their cars on B.C. Ferries’ enclosed lower decks, despite pleas to relax the regulation.

In an emailed response to the Times Colonist, the federal agency said safety is a high priority for Transport Canada and its regulations are in place to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew.

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“Remaining in a vehicle on an enclosed vehicle deck while a ferry is operating is not safe for passengers. Enclosed vehicle decks are specifically designed to contain smoke and fire, in order to protect the other levels of the ship and allow more time for passengers and crew to stay safe and evacuate,” the agency said.

“No country in the world allows people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks, due to the inherent safety risk and potential for catastrophic loss of life.”

The union representing workers at B.C. Ferries had asked Transport Canada to review a decision to not allow passengers to stay in vehicles on the lower car decks during sailings.

The B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union argued that with more contagious variants of COVID-19 present in the province, it was time to review the risk assessment for travel on all passenger vessels and consider relaxing the rules.

In 2017, a change to Transport Canada regulations meant that passengers on lower, enclosed ferry decks could no longer remain in their vehicles during crossings. It relaxed the rule early in the pandemic, but reinstated it in September.

Passengers, including B.C.’s premier, have voiced opposition, suggesting they would be better protected from COVID-19 if they stayed in their vehicles.

Transport Canada said it permitted passengers to remain on enclosed vehicle decks as a temporary measure last year while it learned more about the spread of COVID-19.

“Due to the inherent safety risk and potential for catastrophic loss of life, this temporary measure was rescinded in September 2020,” it said.

“Ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal safety and marine safety. By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed vehicle deck while the ferry is operating, passengers and crew can stay safe.”

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