BC Ferries ramps up pressure to pay $17 booking fee

As COVID-19 restrictions ease and summer travel increases, BC Ferries passengers with a vehicle may find it more difficult than ever to board unless they pay $17 for a reservation.

When BC Ferries introduced reservation fees on mainline routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland in 1997, the public corporation said only 40 percent of the ferry’s capacity would be reserved for people willing to pay more.

BC Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the amount of deck space now available for booking ranges from 45 percent to 75 percent, depending on the ship and sailing.

Laura Pope, a Denman Island resident who recently retired from working for BC Ferries, says her contacts still with the company tell her that 90 percent of the deck space can now be set aside for reservations on major routes.

That means people traveling by ferry are forced to pay the reservation fee or risk facing hours of waiting at ferry terminals.

In addition to the normal rates, which have been frozen As of 2018, BC Ferries charges $17 to people who make a reservation for a specific trip. That’s in addition to the basic charge of about $75 for a car and driver traveling between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

With more deck space taken up by people with reservations, those who haven’t purchased a reservation will likely have to wait longer.

Pope said that because many people feel compelled to pay the $17 fare, it is effectively a major increase in the cost of traveling on BC Ferries’ main routes.

The independent BC Ferry Commission regulates BC Ferries fares and service levels.

“We are aware that BC Ferries is increasing the bookable space on their vehicle decks,” Ferry Commissioner Eva Hage said in an interview in late June. “Will it get to 90 percent? No one has told us about that.”

It is up to BC Ferries to manage demand and the company may charge fees for bookings as long as the average fare for the routing group remains below the price cap. the commission has setshe said.

Hage also pointed out that the new Saver The fares, which offer a significant discount to off-peak travelers, include a reservation and would contribute to the total amount of deck space counted as reserved.

It can be difficult for passengers on major routes to know whether or not a reservation fee is worth paying, said Hage, who lives on Saturna Island. “It’s a bit of a gamble.”

BC Ferries’ Marshall said the amount of reservable deck space also includes what is reserved for commercial vehicles and buses.

“The demand for bookings at BC Ferries has continued to increase,” he said. “We’ve done customer surveys in the past, and many customers want the convenience and certainty of booking.”

The company recommends making reservations on the main routes, but they are optional and there are reserved and unreserved spaces on each trip, he said.

Pope said BC Ferries needs to be more transparent about the details of the reservation system and how decisions are made.

“It’s like the airlines are overselling the seats,” he said. “We, the traveling public, have almost no information on how BC Ferries handles these things.”

With restrictions on non-essential travel during the COVID-19 pandemic BC Ferries cut service levels and fiscal year 2020-21 saw a 40 percent reduction in ridership and a 24 percent reduction in vehicle traffic.

The company received $308 million in Safe Restart program funding from the provincial and federal governments.

Since the BC government began lifting travel restrictions in June, traffic on BC Ferries has dropped significantly. bounced back.

This article was originally published on The Tyee, an independent, reader-supported online news magazine based in BC Click here for more original and detailed reports and register for our free daily newsletter.

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