Ongoing BC Ferries cancellations and delays are playing a role in increased project costs on Vancouver Island.
By 7 a.m. Wednesday morning, all sailings on the Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen route were full until 9 p.m. The corporation says it was due to a staffing shortage.
“We do have processes in place to be able to backfill crew as quickly as we can, but unfortunately, we weren’t able to do that by 7 a.m. this morning,” said Deborah Marshall, executive director of public affairs for BC Ferries.
Two sailings were initially canceled, but before noon, the corporation brought back the Spirit of Vancouver Island into service a day earlier than expected, adding three extra sailings. On Oct. 10th, the vessel was dry-docked for repairs and set to return on Oct. 19.
Marshall says the extra crew available when one vessel is out for repairs can’t necessarily be used on other ferries due to training.
“Some of our critical positions, crews aren’t necessarily trained on a multitude of vessels, so we did have a situation this morning where crews from the Spirit of Vancouver Island weren’t necessarily trained on the equipment that is on the Coastal Inspiration,” she said.
Aside from travellers, businesses are also feeling frustration over consistent cancellations and delays. The Vancouver Island Construction Association says issues at BC Ferries are affecting the ability to bring essential construction materials and workers, leading to higher project costs.
“We need to have a reliable, regular service to ensure that materials get to the Island in a timely fashion,” said Rory Kulmala, VICA president.
The president says BC Ferries should consider options such as adding extra sailings and overnight routes exclusively for delivering goods and materials.
“The reality is that we really only have a two-day supply of really anything, whether it’s food, fuel, it all comes from the mainland. having a reliable link to move the goods and materials that we need on the Island is critical to our economic vitality,” said Kulmala.
The corporation says these options have been explored but are difficult to implement due to maintenance work being done overnight and not having enough vessels to complete the task.
“There are some procedures that cannot be done when the vessel is on the run… So it leaves us a very limited window to conduct that maintenance and it’s very important that we get that done in order to provide reliable service,” said Marshall.
Kevin Falcon, leader of the BC United Party, called out the corporation’s delays during the legislature question period Wednesday.
“It’s astonishing that after going through a terrible summer full of cancelled ferries, sailing waits at BC Ferries, the NDP response, ‘Let’s add four more vice presidents, that ought to fix the problem,'” said Falcon.
Transportation Minister Rob Fleming responded saying that a former BC Ferries CEO had a $1 million salary while Falcon was the transportation minister. However, Fleming agreed that sailing issues are affecting economies.
“It is about goods moving as well and we’re concerned about that,” he told CHEK News. “That’s why the reliability that we want to see BC Ferries continue to improve upon is so important for the economy here and on the mainland.”
The Spirit of Vancouver Island is returning to its regular service on Oct. 19, and BC Ferries says the backlog at terminals is expected to calm down by the weekend.