Fulford Harbour will see additional sailings — and some disruption from construction work — as BC Ferries rolls into summer.
A new 10-sailing schedule between Fulford Harbour and Swartz Bay starts in late June and may overlap somewhat with urgent piling work, according to BC Ferries staff, who met with Salt Spring Island’s Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) Monday, April 24. The usually biannual meeting finally took place after scheduling conflicts and weather-related postponements, giving commissioners their first chance this year to visit with ferry officials.
The 10-sailing plan — nine on Sundays — is an attempt to relieve strain during peak season, with the first sailings this summer departing Fulford at 6 a.m. and the last leaving Swartz Bay at 10 p.m. The structure builds five round trips into each crew shift, according to fleet deployment and scheduling manager Steve Anderson — a “tight fit” but vital to the schedule. BC Ferries hopes the additional sailings will relieve line-up congestion, and staff said they plan to monitor whether it works.
“We’ll certainly be looking at the on-time performance, as well as overload statistics and overall traffic volumes,” said Anderson, noting that adding what amounts to a 25 per cent capacity increase per shift most days should have a significant impact on service. “It will depend on how people adjust between different sailings. If people do spread out, there should be less congestion and more people getting where they want to go.”
Those extra sailings may be impacted by some urgent work under the trestle at Fulford, as several timber piles there need to be replaced. That work is scheduled to begin at the end of May, even as the current sewage system work currently snarling traffic at the terminal finishes up — but community relations manager Tamara Olson warned a start date may be pushed back.
“It might be postponed, just due to [difficulties with] getting the timber here,” said Olson. “Depending on when the supply chain issue is resolved — and that’s partly to do with the border and the strikes — we’ll have a better idea.”
The piling work needs to be done during very low tides, according to Olson, which restricts crews to the early summer season.
“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t be doing it at this time of year,” said Karen Johnston, executive director of communications and engagement. “But it’s a safety issue.”
In other news, BC Ferries announced the following morning that the provincial Travel Assistance Program (TAP), which covers transportation costs for residents travelling within the province for non-emergency medical services not available in their own communities, will no longer be subject to ferry booking fees — a cost not previously covered by the program.
Going forward, islanders travelling on reservable BC Ferries routes can provide their TAP confirmation number and book their ferry travel without the $18 fee. Johnston had told commissioners to expect an announcement about the program, and that staff were developing ways to prioritize and simplify loading for passengers travelling for medical reasons, which might include a dedicated lane for TAP or Medically Assured Loading customers at unstaffed terminals.
For information on TAP and how to make bookings, visit bcferries.com.