Priority loading for medical patients and parking at Langdale were two of the hot topics at the Nov. 3 Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) meeting. About 20 members of the public listened in while the committee and representatives of BC Ferries—including President and CEO Mark Collins—covered off a wide range of issues close to the heart of Route 3 users.
Priority boarding for people with Travel Assistance Program (TAP) forms is a longstanding concern and the subject of a recent online petition organized by Kim Darwin, Green Party candidate in the last BC election. Over 2,500 people have signed Darwin’s petition asking that people with TAP forms be given priority boarding reservations.
BCF representatives explained some of the difficulties, starting with the volume. Between 2,000 and 3,000 TAP forms per month travel on Route 3, and Chris Morris, VP of terminal operations, noted that it’s not unusual for the ticket booths at Horseshoe Bay to process 200 a day.
TAP forms are issued by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), not BC Ferries. Doctors can request an “assured loading letter” through BC Ferries Customer Care, but this process takes several weeks, and not all doctors are either familiar with it or willing to take the time. The process also doesn’t allow for emergencies or situations where people are discharged unexpectedly from hospital in Vancouver and must travel home.
Sechelt Councillor Alice Lutes, attending as a member of the public, made a plea for BC Ferries to be more flexible. She related an incident where an elderly discharged patient missed the cut-off at the foot passenger ticket booth by seconds.
“I think you have to look at the human issue here, not numbers, passengers and forms. That would be an easy call for that ticket agent to make if you gave them the authority to use some humanity,” said Lutes.
FAC Chair Diana Mumford suggested that her committee talk directly to VCH about possible solutions, such as changing the TAP forms or ensuring that hospital discharge processes flag people’s transportation needs.
Mark Collins “drew the short straw” to deliver unpopular news about parking. Langdale has by far the lowest prices of any BC Ferries lot, said Collins, so “there just is not an economic incentive for people to use the lot efficiently” or to take transit instead of parking. Since there is no space to expand the lot (and the upper lot is on highways property), BCF plans to hire a parking contractor, raise rates and step up enforcement.
FAC member Matthew Wilson, attending by phone, warned that adding a “significant financial burden” to commuters will be a challenge, and pointed out that commuters can only take transit if they are confident the ferries will run on time.
Local resident Sheila Weaver urged “carrots as well as sticks.” She would like to see park and rides built, to make transit accessible to residents who are not served by bus routes.
Collins’ parting message for Sunshine Coast residents was: “Our vision is still focused on a two-vessel hourly service.” However, he said that hourly service will require a redesign of the Horseshoe Bay terminal and new ships that can handle fast turnarounds.
“Please have faith and hope. It’s a five-year journey,” said Collins.