More B.C. Ferries sailings could be cancelled as riders are staying away during a time of social distancing and self-isolation.
The ferry corporation is in Phase 4 of its pandemic response plan, which involves reduction to carrying essential traffic only as well as potential changes to sailing and shift schedules, according to the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union website.
There is a threshold of a certain number of sick employees that would have triggered Phase 4, but Deborah Marshall, B.C. Ferries spokeswoman, said that wasn’t the case.
“We are seeing an increase in absenteeism, that’s for sure, but the trigger is due to the downturn in traffic,” she said.
Marshall said there was one sailing on the Earls Cove-Saltery Bay route this week that was cancelled due to a crewing issue, but that’s all so far.
“We are closely looking at our workforce and reviewing our service levels,” she said.
B.C. Ferries confirmed earlier this week that one worker based out of Tsawwassen contracted COVID-19, though he didn’t work on public areas of the ship and his contact was limited to seven co-workers. The union advised members that the employee worked in the engineering department on the Spirit of British Columbia vessel.
Ferry travel has been decreasing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the week, B.C. Ferries CEO Mark Collins said ferry traffic was down about 40 per cent, and then on Wednesday, March 25, the ferry corporation asked people to avoid non-essential ferry trips.
“Because what we’re seeing in our traffic now, we are down about 55-65 per cent in vehicles and about 70-80 per cent in passengers, depending on the route,” Marshall said Friday, March 27.
She noted that B.C. Ferries has announced some service reductions for April on major routes as well as sailings to and from the southern Gulf Islands. More service reductions are being considered.
“We’re looking at it right now and we’ll update our customers with any new information,” Marshall said.
Though B.C. Ferries has asked people to avoid non-essential travel, Collins said a more strict travel ban, if necessary, would come from the government or the provincial health officer and “it’s not for us to decide whether a marine highway stays open or closed.”
He did say that the ferries need to keep running regardless, so B.C. Ferries will take care of workers so that they feel safe coming to work.
“We’ve got to get those trucks across. You’ve got to keep the food moving, keep the toilet paper moving and keep those critical supplies moving, not just to Vancouver Island, but all the little islands as well,” Collins said. “I’m really proud of [ferry workers]. They’re going to work in the face of the virus so that people can have the critical supplies.”