Transport Canada confirmed it is reviewing approximately 1,000 cases of passengers who refused to leave their car while on BC Ferries over the last two months.
Early in the pandemic, Transport Canada made a temporary exception to the regulation prohibiting passengers from staying on covered car decks during the ferry journey. Instead passengers were required to stay in their vehicles to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
That exception was rescinded Sept. 30, and since then over 1,000 passengers have allegedly refused to leave their cars. Three-quarters of the incidents were on the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay route, and mostly in October in the weeks following the change.
Fines of up to $12,000 could be issued by Transport Canada to individuals who break the rules, though most will result in just a letter to the vehicle owner. If deemed appropriate, fines start at $600.
BC Ferries staff conduct car deck patrols to check for people who have remained in their cars, and said the RCMP and Transport Canada conduct random compliance checks.
In recent weeks positive COVID-19 cases have surged to daily rates in the 800s, far higher than in the spring and summer when the vehicle passenger exemption was in place.
Some, like North Island-Powell River MP Rachel Blaney, are calling on Transport Canada to allow passengers to remain in their vehicles.
“Now, when the risk of exposure is so much higher, your department refuses to reapply this exemption,” she wrote in a letter on Dec. 4 to the Minister of Transportation, arguing that the risk of exposure is greater by causing passengers to congregate in the ferry rather than remaining below.
Transport Canada cites “inherent safety risk and potential for catastrophic loss of life” as the reason for rescinding the exception, and does not appear to be entertaining a second excemption.
“Ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal safety and marine safety. By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed vehicle deck while the ferry is operating, passengers and crew can stay safe,” Transport Canada told Black Press in an emial.
When asked if BC Ferries was asking Transport Canada to reinstate the exception, spokesperson Deborah Marshall said, “We had discussions with Transport Canada about it several months ago, however they are the regulator and we must comply with their regulation.”
The rule to leave vehicles was originally made in 2007, but for a decade, BC Ferries was allowed to satisfy the Transport Canada requirement by having staff doing continuous patrols on the vehicle decks. But in 2017, the policy was revised and passengers were no longer allowed to stay in their cars.
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