B.C. Ferries sees uptick in foot passengers after advising drivers to avoid travel without reservation

Passengers at the B.C. Ferries terminal in Tsawwassen on July 29.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Passengers at the B.C. Ferries terminal in Tsawwassen on July 29. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

With long-weekend ferry travel in full swing, B.C. Ferries is hoping that an upward trend in foot-passenger travel will continue.

Labour Day weekend is typically the fourth busiest ferry travel period of the year for the ferry operator, with an expected 520,000 passengers and 200,000 vehicles.

B.C. Ferries CEO Nicolas Jimenez is repeating the same message that company representatives have been saying and buying ads for all summer: If you don't have a reservation, don't show up at a terminal in your vehicle.

"We're encouraging people to find alternate ways to get on board — take transit, car-pool, get dropped off and walk on," he said during a briefing on Thursday.

In recent years, the company has been pre-booking up to 80 per cent of its vehicle spots. Reservations for long-weekend travel on major routes often sell out weeks in advance, leaving those without a booking risking hours-long waits at the terminal.

"Essentially, if you don't have a reservation you will find it a very challenging experience," Jimenez said.

Efforts to encourage people without reservations to leave their cars at home have been successful, says vice-president Brian Anderson.

The company says during this year's B.C. Day long weekend, it saw a 23 per cent reduction in customers driving up to the terminals without a reservation in comparison to 2022. This led to a 56 per cent drop in passengers with vehicles experiencing sailing waits.

At the same time, foot-passenger traffic increased by 20 per cent, the ferry operator said.

"We did see a notable increase in passengers arriving without vehicles and traveling very smoothly through the system," Anderson said Thursday.

Travel on B.C. Ferries this summer has been affected by cancellations due to ship engine problems and staffing shortages. Going into the fall, the company reports that it will be cancelling 60 sailings and re-booking 800 customers on the Duke Point-Tsawwassen route connecting Vancouver Island with Metro Vancouver.

In the days leading up to and during the Canada Day long weekend, the company had to cancel eight daily sailings between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay because the Coastal Celebration ship needed repairs.

Soon after the vessel re-entered service, the Coastal Renaissance, which normally travels between Duke Point and Tsawwassen, was taken out of service. The company was able to bring in a replacement vessel, but the route has been running fewer daily sailings.

B.C. Ferries says repairs on the Coastal Renaissance aren't expected to be completed until at least mid-October. According to a statement, the "precise nature" of the engine repair is still to be determined.