BC Ferries passengers are driving aboard more, and walking on less, and to hear it told from several local ferry users, it’s little wonder.
As BC Ferries released its quarterly vehicle and passenger counts last week, the venerable Ask Salt Spring forum and its moderator Gayle Baker played host to a pair of BC Ferries officials, and heard questions and concerns from some two dozen islanders in attendance. The goal was to highlight and elucidate the BC Ferries Submission for Performance Term 6 document — a sort of “wish list” sent to the BC Ferries Commission in early October.
Among improvements laid out within its 163 pages, that 12-year capital plan imagines two new Island Class ferries serving the Crofton-Vesuvius route by late 2026, as well as adding sailings and a second vessel on the Fulford-Swartz Bay route during the summer peak by 2027.
Those parts of the plan are a response to growing demand being felt not only aboard vessels but also in and around terminals; peak-travel-time traffic lineups are common and increasingly disruptive on roadways in Vesuvius and Fulford.
But while vehicle numbers have bounced back and even reached new highs since cratering at the start of the pandemic, passenger counts have stubbornly resisted. In the three months ending Sept. 30, 2022, BC Ferries said it carried 7.5 million passengers and 3.0 million vehicles; our reporting on the same quarter in 2019 counted 7.7 million passengers and 2.9 million vehicles.
While pandemic considerations may have driven the initial downturn in numbers, several forum participants felt foot passengers just didn’t seem to be prioritized. Many brought up connectivity problems — vexing issues of ferry and bus schedules being poorly aligned, running to catch connecting vessels, and inadequate weather shelter for foot passengers waiting to walk (or bike) aboard.
The province’s “CleanBC Roadmap to 2030” identifies emission reduction targets that include encouraging more walking and cycling, with a specific goal of increasing the share of trips made by “walking, cycling and transit” to 30 per cent by 2030 (from 24 per cent in 2019).
That goal is admirable; we believe it may require making foot passengers less of an afterthought. In addition to solving vehicle overload issues, we remain hopeful for meaningful improvements in foot passenger connectivity and infrastructure.