British Columbia

Staffing shortage forces B.C. Ferries to cancel evening sailings to and from Salt Spring Island

The cancelled sailings are due to a senior staff member being sick, says the Salt Spring Island ferry advisory committee.

Sailings after 5 p.m. will be replaced by a passenger-only water taxi service

A small ferry jets by in open water.
The Skeena Queen's evening sailings after 5 p.m.— two round trips between Swartz Bay and Salt Spring Island — have been cancelled until Saturday. (B.C. Ferries)

B.C. Ferries has cancelled their evening sailings between Swartz Bay in Victoria and Fulford Harbour on Salt Spring Island until July 30 because of a staffing shortage.

A free 48-person water taxi will operate in place of the cancelled evening sailings, but the vessel has no capacity for vehicles. 

Until Saturday, the last daily sailing of the Skeena Queen will leave Fulford Harbour at 3:50 p.m. and Swartz Bay at 5 p.m.

The cancellations are the latest in a string of challenges for B.C. Ferries, which announced on Friday that it had fired its president and CEO, Mark Collins. B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said Friday that the company had cancelled 173 sailings within the previous 28 days. 

Harold Swierenga, chair of the Salt Spring Island ferry advisory committee, said the recent Skeena Queen cancellations are because a senior ferry employee is sick.

Swierenga said the cancellations don't affect commercial traffic, which peaks earlier in the day, but some residents and tourists have had to change their plans.

"People are making adjustments, there's no question about that," said Swierenga. 

Swierenga said people who need to travel with their cars in the evening can take the ferry from Vesuvius on Salt Spring Island to Crofton, a town 73 kilometres north of Victoria. 

"The situation could be a lot worse if it were during regular commercial traffic ... but we'll get over it and we expect this to be all over by the end of this coming week," said Swierenga. 

Matt Rissling, co-owner of Rock Salt Restaurant and Café near Fulford Harbour, said it's too early to say if the ferry cancellations will affect his business over the coming long weekend, but he anticipates there will be fewer tourists. 

"There's enough locals on Salt Spring as is to keep our business going just fine, but it's nice to get the tourists in the summer," said Rissling. 

Housing crisis

Rissling said his restaurant has had issues with staffing shortages as well, and he believes the root of the problem is a lack of affordable and available housing on Salt Spring Island. 

"It's expensive, and beyond that there simply isn't enough for the people who want or need to live here to service things like the ferries, restaurants, grocery stores," said Rissling. 

He said because Salt Spring Island is the home port of the Skeena Queen ferry, most of the vessel's regular staff are island residents. 

"It will be very challenging for B.C. Ferries to solve their staffing problem without first addressing the housing issue, which may be beyond their mandate," said Rissling. 

Darryl Martin, president of the Salt Spring Chamber of Commerce, said that while the cancelled sailings have severely affected residents, visitors have been less impacted. 

"They weren't totally stranded. And our tourism sector has been accommodating if someone needed to stay an extra night," he said in an email. 

Martin said he also suspects the staffing shortages are due to housing scarcity for workers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michelle Gomez is a CBC writer in Vancouver. You can contact her at michelle.gomez@cbc.ca.

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