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B.C. ferry workers say locals-first boarding policy leading to anger, abuse

Click to play video: 'Confusion and frustration build over ‘locals first’ boarding rules for BC Ferries.' Confusion and frustration build over ‘locals first’ boarding rules for BC Ferries.
Confusion and frustration build over 'locals first' boarding rules for BC Ferries. – Jul 24, 2020

Passenger frustration is building on some of BC Ferries‘ key routes, over a resident-priority loading policy that’s left some travellers waiting hours.

The policy was enacted under a ministerial order in March to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but has only been implemented since June, when ferry traffic began to recover.

Read more: Tired of dealing with abuse, BC Ferries workers call on company for change

It requires the ferry service to give loading priority to residents of a vessel’s destination.

In practice, it means passengers who aren’t a resident or don’t have a reservation may have to wait for multiple sailings.

The Horseshoe Bay-Langdale route has been hardest hit. BC Ferries says it’s aware of waits of up to eight hours, while the union representing ferry workers says some have had to wait more than 12 hours.

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BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union president Graeme Johnston told Global News that’s translated into abuse for staff.

“In one instance we had somebody who was so distraught they lay down in front of moving traffic while screaming at employees to put her on a ferry. It’s been incredibly difficult to deal with,” he said.

Johnston said several workers have filed claims with WorkSafeBC over the abuse, while others are telling managers they won’t come to work.

Read more: BC Ferries to boost service levels as B.C. reopens from COVID-19

One concern is that people who are given priority boarding aren’t required to prove their residency.

“We’re not an enforcement agency, and to actually check everyone’s ID would slow down the point of sale,” said BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall.

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“And you may have a second property, which would mean you are a resident, which might not match your driver’s licence.”

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Marshall said the ferry service has added about 300 extra sailings since the start of June, but advised travellers to secure a reservation to ensure they get to their destination.

She added that BC Ferries has a zero-tolerance policy for verbal or physical abuse of workers.

Read more: Family concerned about changes to BC Ferries’ program for urgent medical travel

But Johnston says something needs to change, and soon. He said the company and the province need to work together to refine the policy.

“Things have been getting progressively worse in terms of abuse and volume of abuse,” he said.

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“I think things are about to reach a breaking point.”

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