After what’s so far been a summer marred by boats on major routes going out of service at busy times, staffing shortages causing other cancellations and confusing communication, BC Ferries said it has a plan for the long weekend.
The B.C. Day long weekend is the busiest travel period of the year for the coastal connector and it expects to move over 580,000 passengers and 210,000 vehicles.
“Despite moving this many people and vehicles, it’s fair to say we’ve had a number of frustrating events happen over the summer,” CEO Nicolas Jimenez told media on Wednesday (Aug. 2).
Those events recently included the loss of eight daily sailings on the busy Tsawwassen-Swartz Bay route due to issues with the Coastal Celebration. The vessel was set for re-fits in May, but those were delayed a month before it ultimately needed further repairs that scrapped the late-July sailings.
Asked why repairs were scheduled during the busy season in the first place, officials said a lack of dry dock capacity in B.C. and a few bids for the work contributed to the delays.
The Coastal Celebration is back in service as the ferry operator expects every one of its vessels to run at full capacity through the long weekend.
That full fleet is one of several actions Jimenez said have been implemented over the summer in an aim to avoid further frustration at the terminals. He also announced crew members will be on standby in the event staffing shortages arise on the weekend.
Larger terminals will have hydration and misting stations available, along with family activities like face painting and performances by local artists throughout the weekend.
The CEO addressed how in recent weeks BC Ferries’ website indicated passengers would be in store for almost half-a-day waits while the reality at terminals only saw delays of a couple of hours.
“This company needs to do better when it comes to communicating,” Jimenez said, adding it’s difficult to predict passenger behaviour and they don’t know if people will ultimately honour their reservations. The control room also responds to a myriad of unforeseen events every day as the CEO cited how customers needing medical attention and stalled vehicles preceded his morning briefing.
Corrine Storey, chief operating officer of BC Ferries, said the current conditions communicated to the public change throughout the day as people change their trip plans, crews load higher volumes than expected or other schedule changes free up capacity that can be rebooked.
Jimenez said BC Ferries’ technology hasn’t held up in key moments, so they’ve brought on 100 call centre workers to assist long-weekend customers, while other measures include the creation of a virtual waiting room to ensure surges won’t crash the website and e-booking.
With reservations now making up 80 per cent of major routes, Jimenez said they’ve emphasized it’s unknown how long passengers will have to wait on the tarmac if they show up at peak times without a booking.
“I started the summer with being very upfront with British Columbians, we have challenges in our business that cannot be fixed overnight,” the new CEO said, adding ferry systems across North America are facing similar challenges.
“It’s my job to make sure that everyone in the company is focused on our purpose, to connect everyone in British Columbia to the people and places important in their lives. People need to have faith that the ferry system is going to work for them because it’s integral to the social and economic underpinnings of the province.”