British Columbia

Lack of ferry capacity has Bowen Island kids missing school, dad says

Bowen Island parents are feeling adrift when their kids miss class because of overloaded ferry sailings. They want BC Ferries to better staff the Queen of Capilano to allow more passengers.

BC Ferries says few sailings overcapacity but corporation is looking for long-term fix

Bowen Island is a short ferry ride from the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal (Bridgette Watson/CBC)

A Bowen Island father says his kids are missing class because BC Ferries is leaving them and other passengers marooned.

Garry Fields has 16-year-old twin sons who attend Rockridge Secondary School in West Vancouver and take a ferry as part of their commute.

The problem, Fields said, is the 7:30 a.m. PT ferry connecting the island community to the mainland often leaves passengers and vehicles behind — even though the boat is not full — and that means his boys have to scramble for a water taxi or wait over an hour for the next sailing.

The vessel, the Queen of Capilano, can't take on more passengers due to Transport Canada crew restrictions.

"It seems like the rush hour commute is regularly undercrewed right now since the end of the tourist high season," Fields said.

"Now the regular rush hour people are in a bind. It's probably 20 people, something like that, being left on the dock [daily], plus a whole lot of vehicles."

For high school students like Talia Barnett, left, and Zachary Ross, getting to school on the Queen of Capilano is a way of life. (Catherine Rolfsen/CBC)

He wants BC Ferries to improve crew levels on the Queen of Capilano so the ship can take more passengers.

More crew, more costs

Bowen Island, in Howe Sound, is about three kilometres from the Lower Mainland and connected by a 20-minute ferry sailing to Horseshoe Bay. The island is home to about 3,700 people but there is no high school there.

A BC Ferries spokesperson said the "vast majority" of the time, the Queen of Capilano is sailing with what is called a "B" license from Transport Canada, which allows it to carry about 450 passengers and not leave passengers behind.

Darin Guenette said upgrading to an "A" license would require two extra crew members and allow the ship to carry 40 extra passengers.

"If we know of a sailing — any time — when we know there are a large number of walk-ons or something, they can look at going to an 'A' license. We typically need a day or two to plan," Guenette explained.

He said the extra crew costs for an "A" license would add up if used all year round. That could result in higher ticket costs for passengers.

This week, Guenette said, there have been two instances of the 7:30 a.m. PT sailing having to stop loading passengers and vehicles from Bowen Island for capacity issues.

There was a third over-capacity sailing earlier in September, he said. "It's not a regular occurrence, which is why it's been hard for us to anticipate when it might happen."

BC Ferries' Queen of Capilano runs from the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal to Bowen Island. (bcferries.com)

Looking for solutions

However, Guenette said, because the situation has unfolded two days in a row, BC Ferries is looking at options for capacity issues on the Bowen Island route, which he said is getting busier.

He said there were some other overloaded sailings in June, at the end of the school year, which prompted extra crewing as a precaution for several weeks.

"We don't want to see students missing [school]," he said. "It's a huge inconvenience."

Fields hopes a solution can be found.

Whenever his sons miss their ferry, it means they miss at least their first period of the school day.

"It's a bit of a drag," he said. "It's a necessity. It's part of our transportation system."

Listen to the full interview with Garry Fields:

With files from Karin Larsen and CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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