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BC Ferries responds to cancellations and glitches over May long weekend, Bowen Island mayor demands change

After a busy long weekend with ferry cancellations, delays and BC Ferries’ website going offline, we’re now hearing directly from the CEO about what happened.

Nicolas Jimenez was not put up to speak on the issues during the long weekend but on Tuesday, spoke with Global News.

He said, despite some unfortunate events, including the cancellation of all Saturday night sailings to and from Bowen Island, over 400,000 people traveled on ferries over the May long weekend.

Still, Jimenez says the company could’ve done a better job at communicating with the public when the website went down on Monday.

“Could we do better? We can always do better. I think that is clear,” Jimenez admitted.

“So, we take every opportunity, like this one, to make sure we kind of build in better practices in the future to make sure when customers can’t reliably get into our systems, they at least know why.”

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Jimenez says the crash came from an issue in the company’s Kamloops data centre.

When pressed on the issue of sailing cancellations to and from Bowen island, he said it speaks to the larger issue of staffing levels.

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“For mariners, one of their biggest issues is not technology, it’s not vessels, it’s people,” Jimenez explained.

“You know, coupled with that, we’re coming on the heels of a pandemic, which really disrupted labor markets.”

But that explanation is not good enough for the Mayor of Bowen Island who spoke with Jimenez earlier in the day.

Mayor Andrew Leonard says what happened over the long weekend is just one example of the deterioration of ferry service in his community.

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“It feels certainly like we’re at a tipping point and something has to give,” Leonard told Global News.

“We need BC Ferries, we need the provincial government to come to the table with us and get actual solutions instead of just conversations of like, ‘oh, we hear you and change is coming.’ That’s the story that we’ve been hearing for the last number of years.”

While Leonard acknowledges the staffing shortfalls, he says BC Ferries is unfairly targeting smaller routes for cancellations, when he believes those routes require fewer resources to maintain a consistent schedule.

“BC Ferries sent out press releases that were boasting 100 additional sailings between the mainland and Vancouver Island. And yet it was the smallest boat, Bowen Island’s boat, the only one that experienced cancellations,” Leonard shared .

“And it affected us in a disproportionate way because of our smaller infrastructure, our smaller island and our inability to really absorb or cope with that kind of pressure when it’s when it’s left on us.”

Click to play video: 'Long weekend problems for BC Ferries'

Long weekend problems for BC Ferries

Leonard says he has seen residents strained and even move away from Bowen Island due to inconsistent sailings in his community.

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“Ferry delays and ferry cancellations result in parents needing to get up before their kids are awake and coming back after their kids are asleep,” he explained.

“We had a pilot who had to move off island because he was not able to show up for shifts on time and had no reliability or security around transit and transportation.”

He adds, tourists were deeply affected by last weekend’s cancellations.

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“When the ferries got canceled, we had hundreds and hundreds of tourists on an island of 4200 people that has no hotels. So, we were scrambling to find accommodations for folks,” Leonard shared.

He says some easy short-term solutions could include assured loading for residents and ferry marshalling on the island to help deal with traffic congestion.

But, he’s also worried things will only get worse, with more and more people traveling as we move into summer and he anticipates more cancellations.

“It’s really anxiety provoking. It cuts us off from the mainland. It has us feel like second class citizens, Leonard expressed.”

“We have tourists that are sleeping in their cars or scrambling to find accommodations overnight. It’s not a good experience for them and it creates a public safety issue on this side of the island.”

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Leonard says he’ll believe the changes promised by BC Ferries when he sees them.

“So, we can come together, but this cannot be the new normal.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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