Premier John Horgan says he has already started lobbying the federal government to overturn a decision requiring passengers on major BC Ferries routes to leave their vehicles on closed bridges.
The company said on Wednesday that Transport Canada had revoked the temporary flexibility given to ferry operators that allowed passengers to stay in their cars to allow them to self-isolate during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in the process of moving resources to transit, be it BC Transit, TransLink and BC Ferries, so that we can stabilize our transit systems,” said Mr. Horgan.
“This is an unwanted intrusion on the part of the federal government at this time and we will pursue this action aggressively.
Mr Horgan called the rule “severe” and said he raised the issue with Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Transport Canada granted flexibility in the spring when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold to allow greater physical distance.
BC Ferries said on Wednesday that effective September 30, customers must exit the decks of closed vehicles on most large vessels.
The ferry company has implemented a number of additional health and safety measures since the start of the pandemic, including cleaning, disinfection and mandatory use of masks, he said.
The company will also reopen some areas of the ships, such as the Pacific Buffet on “spiritual class” ships for seating only, to provide more space for passengers.
The vehicle main deck clearance procedure will be reapplied on three routes from Metro Vancouver to Vancouver Island, as well as crossings between Comox and Powell River, and Tsawwassen and the southern Gulf Islands.
However, BC Ferries said Transport Canada had granted approval to allow passengers to stay in their vehicles on the main car bridge between Horseshoe Bay and Langdale.
“Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route vessels operate in ‘sheltered’ waters as defined by Transport Canada,” BC Ferries said in a service advisory.
“BC Ferries has received approval from Transport Canada to operate vessels on this route with the rear doors open, making the bridge an ‘open’ vehicle bridge.
The company also added a new steel barrier across the opening for added security and warns that if the rear doors need to be closed for any reason, customers will be asked to leave their vehicles.
Mr. Horgan said the sea route is an integral part of the province’s transportation system and that BC Ferries is an essential service for many British Columbians.
“We believe we can transport people safely as long as we have the support and cooperation of Ottawa. It is not something that we are looking for, it is something that we oppose.