Coronavirus: BC Ferries to slash service levels by half, lay off up to 1,400 workers

The Spirit of British Columbia near the Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal in 2007. CP PHOTO/Richard Lam

BC Ferries is slashing its sailings to about half of normal seasonal service levels, as British Columbians reduce their travel during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The company says the move, which will apply to multiple routes, will “protect the health and safety of communities and ferry workers, ensure the resiliency of the coastal ferry service, and better match ferry service to current demand.”

BC Ferries president Mark Collins said to date, one employee has tested positive for the virus, and that three or four other people are presumptive positive cases who are self-isolating at home.

Collins said the move would result in between 1,000 and 1,400 layoffs.

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Our service levels are determined by the coastal ferry services contract with the province of British Columbia,” said Collins.

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“We’re not allowed to go below those levels without their agreement in that contract. So we’ve been working through an amendment to that contract to allow us to reduce capacity.”

The service changes will take effect on Saturday, and apply for 60 days.

Click to play video: 'Latest COVID-19 numbers in B.C.'
Latest COVID-19 numbers in B.C.

The company says it will closely monitor traffic during that period, but that it believes the changes will accommodate the flow of essential goods and services.

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On Thursday, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix called on British Columbians to avoid all non-essential travel, particularly to smaller communities.

This is the second time BC Ferries has reduced service levels due to the pandemic.

On March 14, the company announced it was reducing service between Vancouver and Victoria and shuttering on-board food buffets due to concerns over coronavirus.

BC Ferries is also now allowing passengers to stay in their vehicles on enclosed lower car decks if they wish.

Effective Saturday, April 4, 2020, service level adjustments are as follows:

  • Regular sailings on the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen – Duke Point are reduced to four round trips a day from the present eight on both routes
  • Four additional “cargo only” round trips will be provided on the Tsawwassen – Duke Point route, to ensure essential goods are transported to and from Vancouver Island
  • Service on the Langdale – Horseshoe Bay route is reduced to six round trips a day from the present eight
  • All service on the Horseshoe Bay – Nanaimo route is suspended
  • All service on the Mill Bay – Brentwood Bay route is suspended
  • For northern and mid-coast communities, service will continue to operate at the current off-peak (winter) service levels. The summer direct service from Bella Coola to Port
    Hardy will not be introduced at this time
  • Changes will be coming to the Tsawwassen – Southern Gulf Islands and Swartz Bay – Southern Gulf Islands service. Details are currently being finalized and will be announced

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