BC Ferries sees increased ridership during long weekend, small communities worried

BC Ferries sees increased ridership during long weekend, small communities worried
WatchIt's a holiday weekend but health officials say this isn't the time to travel. Many are worried travellers aren't getting the message, as BC Ferries saw an increase in passengers even though it's essential travel only. Jasmine Bala has more.

Dozens of cars are lining up at ferry terminals to travel during the Easter long weekend, despite advice from health officials to stay put.

“It’s a weekend for us to stay at home and to appreciate what we have,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C’s provincial health officer, on Thursday. “Now is not the time for travel unless it’s absolutely necessary and you need to take care of your family.”

Some of the passengers lined up at Swartz Bay ferry terminal on Good Friday said that’s exactly why they’re travelling.

“I just finished school at UVic so I’m heading home, back for the summer,” said David Stickney, adding that he plans on being quarantined once he gets home.

Post-secondary student Mikayla Schmitz is in a similar situation.

“I’m planning on staying home until September when I’m going to be back [for the new school year] or when the coronavirus gets a vaccine, then I may come back earlier. But as of right now, I’m not planning on coming back to Victoria.”

Others are travelling to take care of personal business.

“I have to because the situation, I don’t know when it’s getting better, and I need to get this done as soon as possible,” said Jackie Yu, noting that this is the first time he’s left his home in weeks.

They all agree their travel is essential, but it’s possible not everyone is travelling for similar reasons.

The past couple days have seen a boom in ridership, with B.C. Ferries reporting sailings up to 98 per cent full of the allowed capacity. B.C. Ferries is only allowed to carry up to 50 per cent of their maximum passenger load to support the two-metre distancing rule.

Although B.C. Ferries is reminding passengers to avoid all non-essential travel, these large numbers are still a concern for smaller communities like Bowen Island that typically see a lot of tourism and visitors around this time of year.

“There’s a huge concern in the community that we would have a huge influx of tourists on the island,” said Gary Ander, mayor of Bowen Island. “We’ve made it quite clear that we love our tourists and our tourist industry is a huge part of our island economy, but just not right now.”

Ander said the immediate worry is the strain tourism would have on physical distancing, local businesses and essential services.

“[There would be] stress on our essential services, especially the local grocery store and that sort of thing,” he explained. “They just do not have the capacity to take on any volume of additional people in the store.”

Ander noted that the island has been monitoring the ferries closely, and so far, most people getting off the vessels are residents of the community returning home. He said he is hopeful this continues to be the case and people heed the advice of public health officials.

Jasmine BalaJasmine Bala

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