BC Ferries chaos on Canada Day weekend 'unacceptable,' transport minister says

Published June 30, 2023 3:34 p.m. ET
Updated June 30, 2023 10:20 p.m. ET

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For the second day in a row, people trying to get a spot on a ferry from Metro Vancouver to the Island ahead of the Canada Day weekend were out of luck before the day was over – something the transportation minister described as "unacceptable."

On Friday, sailings between the mainland and Victoria were fully booked by 2:30 p.m. By 6 p.m., sailings to Nanaimo from both Tsawwassen and Horseshoe Bay were also at capacity. This followed a similar situation on Thursday when all routes to the Island were sold out by mid-afternoon.

The demand for travel on a long weekend, which inevitably creates crowds, has been compounded by an unexpected snag in operations.

The provincial ferry service announced Wednesday that its Coastal Celebration vessel had been removed from service for an "unplanned, extended refit," decreasing the overall passenger and vehicle capacity on the most popular route and causing reservations to be reassigned.

In the days leading up to the long weekend the reservation system crashed three times in a 24-hour period.

Those looking to check conditions on the most popular routes using the app were met with the following warning about what to expect between June 29 and July 3.

"Customers without a booking will face multiple sailing waits and may not be able to travel."

Minister Rob Fleming weighed in on the matter, saying the vital service just can't be counted on.

“The situation right now is unacceptable, BC Ferries needs to provide a better more reliable service,” Fleming said.

“Multiple sailing waits when you’re in a hot car with your kids and dog is not a pleasant experience,” he continued.

The terminals weren’t the only places facing traffic backlogs, the B.C. Ferries website also crashed several times throughout the day Friday and would-be travellers were being warned to expect further tech issues.

“We are experiencing intermittent slowness on our schedule pages and online booking system, which may continue throughout the July long weekend. We are seeing peak volumes of nearly 15,000 customers viewing up to 80,000 pages in one hour. We have staff monitoring the website performance and our booking system to ensure issues are caught and resolved as quickly as possible,” a statement on the BC Ferries website says.

BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall is advising against showing up without a reservation anytime over the weekend – saying people travelling in their cars will face multiple sailing waits.

“They might want to travel as a foot passenger if that works," she said.

As of Friday night, the foot passenger lines spanned a few hundred metres outside the terminal doors.

The company is advising passengers with reservations to arrive at least 45 minutes before their sailing. Even so, long lineups and heavy traffic volume meant multiple sailings from various locations across the system did not leave on schedule. 

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