Vehicle passengers on BC Ferries will no longer be able to stay in the lower decks during sailings.
As of Sept. 30, customers must leave their vehicles on enclosed car decks and come up to outer passenger decks or areas. Passenger in upper or open car decks can still remain in their vehicles.
The ruling comes down from Transport Canada, which temporarily lifted its safety regulations on car decks in March to promote physical distancing on vessels.
But the federal government re-imposed the rule, citing safety concerns.
Representatives for BC Ferries say the company supports the regulation and its intent, stating that enclosed car decks represent “inherent risk to the travelling public.”
But as one section of the boat closes, another opens. The Pacific Buffet area will reopen for seating only on Spirit Class vessels, as a way to provide additional space for physical distancing.
Incumbent B.C. NDP leader John Horgan has expressed his frustration with the federal government decision, calling the regulation stricter than necessary for coastal B.C. ferry routes.
He said Tuesday that he spoke with the finance minister and was assured steps would be taken to convince Transport Canada that a global pandemic was not to have people up from the lower decks.
“I would encourage the federal government to send delegates to the ferry terminals in British Columbia so they can give the bad news to the travelling public, rather than the workers at B.C. Ferries,” he said. “This is going to frustrate a lot of British Columbians.”
The lower deck rule was imposed in the wake of 2006 after the Queen of the North sank during a nighttime Inside Passage sailing. Two passengers went missing and have never been found, ultimately being declared deceased.
BC Ferries has kept a number of other pandemic-related safety regulations in place, including additional cleaning, sensitization, physical distancing and mandatory face coverings for anyone at the terminal or on board a vessel. Travel bans or monetary fines may be imposed for non-compliant customers.
– With files from Tom Fletcher.