BC Ferries’ CEO is pledging the company will do better in the wake of a long weekend marred by cancelled sailings and long waits.
But while Nicholas Jiminez says he’s confident the ferry service is back in a position to meet customer expectations, he admits a staffing crunch means the fleet doesn’t have the person-power to overcome unexpected challenges during the summer travel season.
At the heart of the weekend ferry chaos was the loss of the Coastal Celebration to unexpected maintenance delays, forcing the ferry company to cancel dozens of sailings and rebook thousands of reservations.
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The domino effect meant on Friday some people faced a six-sailing wait between Tsawwassen and Swartz bay, while others were simply shut out of travel completely — a situation Transportation Minister Rob Fleming described as “unacceptable.”
Jiminez said management and staff at BC Ferries were also frustrated by the situation, but said he believed the service recovered well as the weekend went on.
“It certainly created a lot of challenge for us Thursday and Friday, but what I do know is that we actually had a fairly good weekend after that,” he said.
“Busy, for sure, but if you had a reservation you were getting on your sailing. We didn’t have a lot of cancellations due to crewing issues.”
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Despite the backlog over the long weekend, BC Ferries said it was unable to run late-night sailings due to concerns about overtime and staff burnout.
Fleming has promised that won’t be the case when the service faces its next challenge for the B.C. Day long weekend.
Jimenez said with the Coastal Celebration back in service, he was confident the ferry service would be able to meet its scheduled service levels for the rest of the summer.
But he conceded that BC Ferries is “running thin right now” when it comes to staff.
“Our expectation is we’ve got crews and vessels ready to go, so that is how we run the business and that is every expectation of what will happen,” he said.
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“Can I guarantee no one is goin to get sick, can I guarantee we won’t have an emergency repair? Of course not.”
What’s more, Jiminez said despite doing everything it can to bring on more staff, it could be a full season or even two seasons for the company to “fully get back the resilience we need.”
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Adam Olsen, BC Green MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, told Global News the ferry service — and the NDP government — needs to be more aggressive to deal with its recruiting problems.
“We really need to make sure we are competitive with all the other marine operators that are also looking for these staff right now,” he said.
“So the provincial government needs to assure BC Ferries that they can go out and attract those workers and they’re offering competitive wages.”
With no quick solution in view to the staffing crunch, travellers are being urged to always have a reservation if they can make one.
And Jiminez said BC Ferries is also recommending people consider transit and walk-on options if they can manage to leave their vehicle behind.
“People need to be more aware that we’re travelling more as British Columbians right now, peak summer,” he said.
“But also we’ve exceeded the kind of travel we’re doing today relative to pre-COVID, so that’s a big deal, and people need to plan.”
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