In the first summer since the pandemic and climate crises grounded most of the world, British Columbians seem in the doldrums about the public ferry system.
Recently, when the community newspaper chain Glacier group informally polled British Columbians in several communities about their travel plans, many said they’re avoiding destinations that require a ferry ride – including 30 percent of respondents in Squamish.
Sailings have been routinely cancelled due to mechanical issues or shortages of staff. Travelers are warned to check advisory alerts before setting out. Holiday weekends have brought massive line-ups at terminals. Reservations are recommended by BC Ferries – but they are sold out for many runs on popular destinations, such as between Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii.
In June, officials on Haida Gwaii jointly sent BC Ferries a letter asking for additional summer sailings. Nearly one-third of the summer has passed, with no word on that request.
“We are discussing the request with the province,” a spokesperson for BC Ferries told West Coast Now in an email.
“We are aware of concerns expressed by some ferry-dependent communities, including those in the north, about the level of ferry service,” responded the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, to a query by West Coast Now.
“We are working with BC Ferries to look at possible ways, both in the short and long term, to address these concerns,” it said in an email.
The BC Ferries network, which is one of the largest in the world, may be due for an overhaul starting later this year.
The ministry email noted the service contract between B.C. and BC Ferries, based on four-year performance terms, is up for review this fall.
“BC Ferries is reviewing its long-term capital plan and working in collaboration with the Province to look (at) current service levels as well as future demand,” said the ministry.
Like most sectors, in Canada and globally, BC Ferries plowed through a recent tough patch.
In the year ended last March, passenger and vehicle traffic had increased over 2020, but was still down compared to 2019, before COVID hit.
And only COVID-relief subsidies, from the B.C. and federal governments, saved its finances.
“Without this funding, BC Ferries would have recorded a total loss of $233.2 million over the past two years,” its annual report noted.
That money “has now been exhausted,” but BC Ferries said in its report it doesn’t expect to need further COVID relief funding.