• Kevin Lamport

BC Ferries during Covid times - a blog, in 1000 Words or Less

For tourists who want to visit Vancouver Island, BC Ferries can be a fun experience, possibly verging on romantic—relaxing with the scenery, the whales and dolphins and bald eagles, smelling the salt chuck, letting the Pacific breeze ruffle the hair.

In 1959 the BC Premier said, “…the government of British Columbia is determined that, in the future, ferry connections between Vancouver Island and the mainland shall not be subject either to the whim of union policy nor to the indifference of federal agencies,” effectively establishing BC Ferries. Ever since, BC Ferries has provided a service that is considered part of the highway system. In literally tens upon tens of thousands of sailings, there’s only been one accident resulting in deaths, when the Queen of the North sank in 2006. It is a reliable essential service that has safely served the needs of Canada’s west coast for decades…

The origins of BC Ferries.

…and for Island residents, is a necessary nuisance that can’t be avoided. It is not fun, romantic or relaxing. It adds an extra three hours to an already endless travel day.

It’s a doctor’s waiting room with no empty chairs.

It’s standing behind an old person at an ATM machine.

It’s hearing the person at the register in front of you say, “Five more scratchers, please!”

Admittedly, I chose to live on Vancouver Island and in doing so, I tacitly agreed that BC Ferries would become an inevitable part of my life. I made the choice and therefore, I have to live with the consequences. Pre Covid, I did exactly that with both a minimum of grumbling and a grudging appreciation that, as much as I didn’t care for the lost time, at least I could count on getting to work and getting home afterward. Post Covid is another story and since ferries are an irksome fact of life on the Island, having to use them means I’m confronted far more often than I’d like with the absolute lunacy of these Covid times. To my mind, BC Ferries reflects the over zealousness, worst tendencies and lack of common-sense that has run riot with so many governments, policy makers, corporations and businesses since February 2020.

One face covering is good? Let’s all wear three! That will be so much better! How about a clothes pin on the nose and a ball gag in the mouth? Sure, you’ll be dead, but you won’t have Covid!

BC Ferries stupidity starts early, when you’re faced with a stern sign mandating a face covering on BC Ferries property. Fine, except…it is usually placed somewhere in close proximity to a ticket-seller ensconced behind protective plexiglass, an individual who inevitably, isn’t wearing a face covering. Maybe it's just me but if the plexiglass barrier protects an employee from a passenger's Covid, I'm going to assume the same barrier protects me from hers. And, if a sign mandates a mask on BC Ferries property, shouldn't the ticket-seller be wearing one too, even with the plexiglass in place?

With a ticket in hand, you proceed to the parking lot and wait to load onto the ship. Early in these Covid times, if you choose to get out of your vehicle and enter the terminal building while you waited, (I’m speaking specifically about Tsawwassen), you had to use a certain set of doors. All the others were locked, for some reason nobody could understand, forcing everybody entering and exiting the building to come together at a single choke point, in direct conflict with social distancing guidelines. Inside the terminal, everyone was expected to circulate in a counter clockwise direction because I guess, this somehow prevented people from bumping into each other or intermingling as they came out of stores or restrooms. It worked about as well as you’d expect.

Walk-on passengers were forced to load via the car decks instead of the overhead passenger walkways, presumably because Covid is less transmittable in the narrow staircases leading up to the passenger deck, compared to the overhead walkways.

Thankfully, both these asinine restrictions have reverted to pre Covid procedures.

Waiting in the parking lot is like a scene from an old war movie in which a public address system blares propaganda at the prisoners, only in this case, it’s constant Covid reminders: wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t travel, socially distance.

Shut. The fuck. Up.

If we don’t know it by now, we never will and the announcement isn’t going to make me change my travel plans; one thing that’s true of Island residents, we seldom use the ferry for recreational purposes. It’s expensive and inconvenient. Typically, we’re there because we have no other option.

On board the ship, if you’re parked on a lower deck, you’re forced out of the protective bubble of your vehicle, up to the passenger deck. We’re told this is done for safety reasons, even though remaining in your vehicle has never been an unsafe practice. However, transport Canada and BC Ferries believe it’s safer to force people out of their vehicles so they can mingle on the passenger deck with strangers they’ve never seen before and won’t see again.

The mandatory safety briefing that occurs as the ship leaves the dock is preceded by another interminable Covid briefing, similar to the one in the parking lot. Apparently, the Covid crisis is more important that knowing what to do in an emergency situation.

The passenger deck is strung with Don’t-Sit-Here tape. Early in Covid times, there were so few areas available for seating that once again, anyone on the passenger deck was forced into close proximity to other passengers. I assume this was to keep the amount of cleaning to a minimum, but come on…decide…are we socially distancing or not?

Soda machines are taped off and can’t be used.

The cafeteria is hilarious in its foolishness. Instead of plastic serving trays, metal utensils, and real dishes, everything has gone disposable. I guess Covid can easily survive the temperature, detergent and rigors of industrial strength dishwashers and therefore paper bags, plastic cutlery, and cardboard containers are safer choices. Passengers are encouraged to eat their meals in their cars. In promotion of that goal, most the tables in the cafeteria are taped off.

Already tediously long, a two-hour sailing has become interminable.

I realize I have little patience for a general lack of common-sense. That means, in situations with a high potential for bureaucratic skull-fuckery, I’m pre-loaded to be annoyed. It’s a personal failing and a characteristic that needs improvement, although quite honestly, I’m unsure how to achieve that goal, other than doing my level best to avoid those situations. Unfortunately, the ferry isn’t something I can avoid. So, when I’m already wound a little tighter than is healthy,

and faced with a mask-less ticket-seller who asks me if I’ve read her Covid sign,

and when I answer, “Yes, I’ve read it,”

and she impatiently chastises me because the correct answers to the questions on her sign are, “No,”

and I hold an angry retort in check while imagining the socially unacceptable ways I’d prefer to respond,

what am I supposed to do?

I remind myself that very little makes sense in Covid times. I try and tune out nonsense such as, “For your safety and the safety of others...” because statements such as these are neither true nor accurate; so much of what is being done is about perception rather than value.

I remind myself not to be so hard on BC Ferries. It is a useful, safe service on which I can count. The snappy individual in her protective plexiglass booth is probably as fed up with the staggering changes Covid has wrought upon us as I am. She is most likely doing her job in a manner consistent with her company’s instructions. It’s not her fault BC Ferries has responded to Covid in an often absurd and reactive over-the-top manner, no differently than so many other governments, policy makers, corporations and businesses.

I remind myself that the entire Covid situation is analogous to BC Ferries itself, an annoying fact of life that can’t be avoided.

Best to exercise patience and…

…wait out the longest red light in the world with as much good humour as I can muster.


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