Be kind to ferry workers.

That’s what BC Ferries executive director of fleet operations Darren Johnston is saying, with news that passengers will soon have to leave their vehicles parked on enclosed desks.

Johnston said Transport Canada has “essentially directed” BC Ferries to comply with the re-implementation of the closed car deck measures, starting Sept. 30th.

“We appreciate that many people will find the timing less-than-ideal given what’s going on globally with the pandemic,” Johnston said. 

“However, Transport Canada’s mandate is vessel safety and they’ve decided that this is necessary and that will be the date. So we’re required now to get into compliance.”

He said a key message is that the decision ultimately lies with Transport Canada.

“We really would request the cooperation of the public in handling this sensitively, and not bringing their frustrations to bear on our front line staff, because it really has nothing to do with them.”

BC Ferries says that Transport Canada is rescinding the temporary flexibility “now that measures are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Transport Canada granted it in the spring in response to the pandemic. 

Johnston said they’re “working hard behind the scenes” to make sure that as we get closer to the 30th, they’ll have all safety measures in place to ensure when people leave their vehicles and go into the passenger areas, that “it’s just as safe as it is today.”

He pointed to BC Ferries implementing a mandatory mask policy where the passengers are responsible for bringing their own masks.

“That’s been quite successful,” Johnston said. “We do have masks on hand if somebody inadvertently has forgotten to bring one along, that we can hand out.”

He added, “We’re not contemplating an issuance of masks to all passengers because our mask policy is going along quite well, but what we are doing is several other measures to ensure that we don’t get too crowded and increase the density in the passenger areas to the point where physical distancing is no longer possible.”

He said BC Ferries is doing that by opening areas of certain vessels that up to now have been closed off for the past six months, such as the buffet seating in the Spirit Class vessels.

Meanwhile, North Island-Powell River MP, Rachel Blaney, has added her voice to those opposed to the decision.

Blaney delivered a letter today to federal Transportation Minister Marc Garneau, urging him to extend the exemption allowing passengers to remain in their vehicles.

She also wants him to show coastal residents the data and research that suggests ending the exemption at the current time is in the best interests of public safety.

“The people in my riding use [ferries] to access vital services including seeking medical attention, sometimes as far away as Vancouver” wrote Blaney. “No one in that vulnerable position should be forced onto the passenger decks in close proximity with others.”

Blaney said she’s frustrated that the decision came as a surprise to the B.C. government and those in ferry-dependent communities. 

“We are ferry people. The Minister in Ottawa needs to talk to us before he makes decisions that specifically affect us.”