British Columbia

BC Ferries traffic on major routes down 92% over long weekend compared to previous year

At a daily update Monday, both provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said the numbers provided to them by BC Ferries indicate the majority of people are complying with directives to limit all non-essential travel.

Provincial health officer says majority of B.C. residents complying with provincial directives to stay home

Passengers drive onto a BC Ferries vessel from Tsawwassen to the southern Gulf Islands on Friday, after provincial officials urged the public to avoid all non-essential travel. (Chris Corday/CBC)

Lineups and sailing waits at BC Ferries have become an unexpected flashpoint in B.C.'s battle against COVID-19, with residents of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands growing frustrated at non-residents travelling to their communities despite a provincial directive to limit non-essential travel as much as possible.

Over the long weekend, thousands of people signed a petition asking that the province restrict all non-essential travel to Vancouver Island.

But at a daily update Monday, both provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix said numbers provided by BC Ferries indicate the majority of people are complying with directives to stay home.

BC Ferries data shows drop in traffic

Dix said that on major routes, between Tsawwassen, Swartz Bay and Nanaimo, traffic was down compared to the same period last year by up to 92 per cent.

In 2019, on the same weekend from Thursday to Sunday, those routes saw 173,284 passengers travel, a number that dropped to 14,633 passengers this year.

From Horseshoe Bay to Langdale, traffic from the same period dropped from 21,398 passengers to 3,911.

Routes along the southern Gulf Islands saw numbers drop from 23,349 passengers to 3,342, and other minor routes saw a drop from 42,904 to 8,908.

Dix said while there were "undoubtedly" some people who travelled unnecessarily, the majority of B.C. residents are complying with provincial orders.

Reduction in total number of sailings

BC Ferries has also reduced the number of total sailings and passenger capacity on each vessel has been cut in half.

Henry said there are several reasons people might need to travel between the island and the mainland, including university students who have recently finished a term.

"Essential travel is still required to keep our province going, to make sure we have the food, the medication, the things we need in all parts of the province. Goods and people to deliver our services still need to move," she said, before thanking people who chose not to travel this long weekend.

"I also know that many people live and work in more than one location and that means at the start and at the end of their week they may need to be on the road," she said.

BC Ferries says it's not authorized to restrict travel.

The province has closed all B.C. parks, postponing camping in those spaces until at least the end of May.

If you have a COVID-19-related story we should pursue that affects British Columbians, please email us at impact@cbc.ca. 

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