Transportation services gear up for passengers

If there was any doubt there is pent-up demand among B.C. residents to take a roadtrip and change their scenery, it was erased Monday morning as B.C. Ferries’ website crashed shortly after the province announced it would scrap travel restrictions within the province beginning today.

But the ferry corporation would not concede that they weren’t ready for the crush of online traffic.

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Spokeswoman Deborah Marshall would only say “we are having technical issues with our website. There is a team actively working on it. They have not determined the root cause as yet.”

“As of (Tuesday), we won’t be asking customers if their travel is essential on the six routes that cross health regions,” said Marshall. “We are expecting traffic to increase once the restrictions are lifted. We will be moving to our regular summer schedules towards the end of this month.”

In a statement, B.C. Ferries chief executive Mark Collins said the end of travel restrictions marks a milestone in tackling COVID-19. “We are thrilled. It means we can welcome everyone back on board,” he said. “We will be adding sailings back into the schedule as we get into the summer season to ensure we have the capacity to meet the anticipated demand.”

The relaxation of the travel ban means Victoria’s airport can expect more use. “We are monitoring the passenger volumes at the airport on a daily basis,” said chief executive Geoff Dickson. “We expect to see a gradual increase in the coming weeks with growth really accelerating once we get closer to July and into Phase 3 of the reopening plan.”

That stage is set for July 1, as long as vaccination rates and COVID numbers continue to cooperate, and would mean non-essential cross-country travel can resume.

John Wilson, chief executive of Wilson’s Transportation, said they will take a measured approach to ramping up operations. “We are certainly seeing a little more positivity in the transportation world,” he said. “We are cautiously optimistic about what domestic tourism will look like this year.”

As of June 18, Wilson’s expects to re-start its B.C. Ferries Connector service, its Victoria sightseeing service and will expand its Tofino Bus service to seven days a week from its current weekend-only schedule.

Wilson’s ferry service, however, will only employ a 24-seat mini-bus for the route to the mainland, rather than a 56-seat coach, until ridership picks up. It will be run seven days a week.

“We are going to open up according to demand,” said Wilson, adding they are allowed to fill a bus as long as everyone wears masks. “But right now that’s not a problem we have.”

Before the circuit-breaker lockdown in the spring, the company was filling only 10 per cent of the seats. It expects that could be more like 40 to 50 per cent this summer.

The sightseeing business, which uses open-top, double-decker buses, will run seven days a week starting in July, but will run only on weekends over the next two weeks.

“Hopefully we all see numbers improve,” said Wilson. “But right now everyone at the company is happy, we’re able to bring back some drivers, sales staff and operations staff and that’s created a much more positive feel around here.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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