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1,000-plus reports of passengers not leaving enclosed BC Ferries car decks

Lower car deck on ferry Coastal Celebration, which is enclosed. (via Glacier Media)

Transport Canada is in the ­process of reviewing 1,000-plus reports of B.C. Ferries passengers unwilling to leave vehicles on enclosed car decks, as is required by regulations.

That requirement for passengers to go upstairs was reinstated at the end of September by Transport Canada, after being waived in the initial months of the pandemic.

The majority of reports of non-compliance were from the first few weeks after the Sept. 30 change, Sau Sau Li, spokeswoman for the federal department, said in a statement.

Since then, reports of non-compliance have “significantly decreased” as a result of education and joint Transport Canada-RCMP patrols, she said.

The reports will be assessed to determine the appropriate level of enforcement action, Li said.

The non-compliance information was collected by B.C. Ferries staff and during joint Transport Canada-RCMP patrols, she said.

For decades, passengers were permitted to stay in their vehicles during sailings. That changed in 2017, when Transport Canada ruled that passengers could only remain in vehicles on open decks.

Federal rules banning passengers from staying in vehicles on an enclosed deck have been in place since 2001.

When the pandemic hit in the spring, Transport Canada temporarily relaxed that rule to permit passengers to remain in their vehicles in enclosed decks until the end of September.

Transport Canada has a range of enforcement options available, including verbal warnings, written warnings and fines ranging from $600 to $12,000.

Ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal safety and marine safety, Li said.

“By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed vehicle deck while the ferry is operating, passengers and crew can stay safe.”

B.C. Ferries requires everyone to wear masks at all terminals, including when outdoors, and on board. It is looking at freeing up more space in its now-closed buffet areas and ­outside to allow for more ­physical distancing.

People with special ­circumstances, such as medical ­difficulties, should contact B.C. Ferries before travelling if they have concerns, Li said.