June 22, 2023
Service interruptions expected as reserve crews in short supply
BC Ferries busy summer season begins today with more sailings and more staff however, customers should expect some cancellations.
Transitioning to summer schedules involves putting five additional ferries into service on routes between Metro Vancouver and Vancouver Island, the Sunshine Coast, and the Southern Gulf Islands. These supplemental vessels require hundreds of additional crew to provide over 4,700 additional sailings over the three-month period ending Labour Day. BC Ferries expects to move nearly 2.6 million vehicles and almost 7 million passengers through September 5.
In support of the transition, a system-wide hiring initiative (the largest in the company’s 63-year history) has added more than 1,200 staff in the last year including 140 recently recruited professional mariners with more than 70 from Ukraine.
“We’ve done a lot to ensure smooth sailing this summer, but we need to be prepared that not all ships will sail all of the time,” said BC Ferries President and CEO Nicolas Jimenez. “Even though we have more people, we are short back-up staff in key positions to cover unexpected absences. I hope customers will continue to offer their understanding as we grapple with retirements and a global shortage of 21,000 professional mariners.”
By regulation, vessels require a minimum number of skilled mariners before a sailing can depart. Back-up crews are particularly thin at Swartz Bay and Nanaimo, meaning even one or two crew absences can result in a cancelled sailing. In the event of a sailing cancellation, BC Ferries does its utmost to accommodate customers and has published guidelines on what to expect on its website.
Last year, between June, July and August, BC Ferries was forced to cancel more than 300 sailings due to crew shortages. That represents 0.7 per cent of all sailings during that period.
“The issues we’re facing are complex and while we’re hiring more people, boosting training budgets and cross-training staff so they can be re-deployed in areas of greatest need, getting to long- term reliability and sustainability will take time,” said Jimenez. “I offer my heartfelt thanks to the BC Ferries team for their ongoing dedication, offering back-up when they can to mitigate impacts to customer service where possible.”
This spring, BC Ferries launched its new app to make travel easier by allowing customers to make bookings, manage trips and monitor service alerts. This advancement follows a new customer-friendly website in 2020, and restructured discount Saver fares on some routes.
Summertime Travel Tips
Book in advance – Book early to secure a spot on the sailing of your choice. Book online at bcferries.com. Customers with advance bookings do not experience sailing waits, even when multiple waits are reported. Customers with flexibility can travel at off-peak times to avoid the rush and in many instances travel at a reduced fare.
Consider off-peak travel times – Customers travelling with vehicles without an advance booking will likely experience sailing waits at peak times. Be prepared for sailing waits if you are travelling without a booking. The best option to avoid sailing waits is to travel during less busy times. These are typically mid-week days and early morning or late evening sailings.
Ride-share, if possible – Vehicle deck space fills up quickly. Customers are encouraged to carpool or take public transit. For schedule information visit TransLink or BC Transit.
Consider parking options – Parking lots at the major terminals also fill up quickly on long weekends. If possible, choose public transit or arrange to be dropped off at the terminal to avoid traffic congestion. Parking lot status by terminal is provided via Twitter @BCFerries and on our website.
Arrive early – Customers with advance bookings should plan to arrive at the terminal 45-60 minutes before their scheduled departure. Walk-on passengers should arrive 45 minutes early for their anticipated sailing. If you have an important appointment or connection with another ferry or flight, travel on an earlier ferry. For travel certainty and a faster check-in process, walk-on passengers can book in advance online on select routes.
Consider travelling on Saturday of a long weekend – Heavy traffic is expected Thursday into Friday and Sunday into Monday morning. It’s always a good idea to check current conditions before heading to the terminal and review the routes-at-a-glance page.
Prepare for warm weather – pack your sunscreen, a sun hat and plenty of water for you and your pets. Misting stations will be in place for customers to cool down at major terminals, as well as many minor staffed terminals.
Follow local traffic laws – Obey posted speed limits on all roadways, including rural communities like such as the Southern and Northern Gulf Islands.
For full schedule information, travel tips, current conditions and bookings, click here. For the most up-to-date travel information, follow @BCFerries on Twitter.
If granted permission to proceed, BC Ferries is poised to undertake a multi-million dollar project aimed at transforming check-in and boarding processes for customers at its five major terminals.
The Major Terminal Efficiencies (MTE) application to the British Columbia Ferries Commissioner proposes how customers arriving at Duke Point, Tsawwassen, Horseshoe Bay, Departure Bay, and Swartz Bay will benefit from:
The project draws upon the experience and best practices of leading transportation terminals globally where the proposed technology is already in use.
MTE will be implemented over four years. Foot passenger travel enhancements at Tsawwassen and vehicle express lanes at Duke Point will be operational in the fall of 2024. Remaining terminals will be completed by the fall of 2027.
Under the Coastal Ferry Act, BC Ferries must not incur a major capital expenditure in excess of $25 million without first obtaining the Commissioner's approval of the expenditure. The Commissioner must respond to BC Ferries’ application within two months.
The application is now posted on the Commissioner’s website for public feedback until July 5, 2023. The document is also posted on BC Ferries’ website.
Over 16.5 million passengers and 6.8 million vehicles travelled through BC Ferries’ major terminals last fiscal year.
VICTORIA – British Columbians who must travel for medical reasons by ferry will now have their $18 booking fee (reservation) waived each way to help ensure they get to, and home from, medical specialist appointments not available in their own communities.
The new service is available on bookable routes for those who qualify for the provincial government’s Travel Assistance Program (TAP), which covers transportation costs for eligible B.C. residents who must travel within the province for non-emergency medical services not available in their own communities.
To secure a complimentary booking with BC Ferries for medical travel, customers must obtain a TAP form from their physician, nurse practitioner, or specialty clinic and obtain a TAP confirmation number from Health Insurance BC. Travelling with a confirmed booking helps to provide travel certainty by reserving a spot in advance and avoiding wait times at the terminal.
“We understand that travelling while unwell, or to treatments and surgeries, can be stressful,” said Janet Carson, Vice President, Marketing and Customer Experience. “Removing the booking fee is our way of helping with travel certainty while removing the financial burden when travelling to and from doctors’ offices, clinics or hospital.”
Customers can continue to use a Medical Assured Loading (MAL) letter on all routes, except those that are fully bookable. MAL is only available for those travelling under the TAP and who have a MAL letter from their medical practitioner that states that it is necessary for them to avoid a wait at the ferry terminal. Customers must present a completed TAP form along with a MAL letter to a ticket agent or a vessel crewmember to get priority boarding.
Over 300,000 customers sailed with BC Ferries last year on the provincial government’s TAP.
The cost of waiving booking fees for medical travel is projected to be in the range of $250,000 to $350,000 annually in foregone revenue and aligns with the TAP program’s goal of removing financial barriers to healthcare.
“The Travel Assistance Program is so important in helping people living in rural or remote communities access critical health-care services,” said Jennifer Rice, Parliamentary Secretary for Rural Health. “Making reservations for people travelling with TAP free is another great step in removing barriers to accessing health care and I am grateful to BC Ferries for this action.”
Complimentary booking fees for medical travel are now available on the following bookable routes:
TAP bookings continue to be available for all customers on routes that are 100 per cent bookable:
If customers are not able to find space on the sailing they need, or do not have a credit card or Visa/Mastercard debit card to make a booking contact the Customer Service Centre at 1-888-BC FERRY (1-888-223-3779) and an agent will assist.
Residents relying on the Langdale – Horseshoe Bay route (Route 3) were the most frequent users (73,000) of the TAP. Customers on the Comox Powell–River route (Route 17) were the next highest users of the program (27,800). For more information on how to make a TAP booking, visit bcferries.com.
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