B.C. Ferries’ new car-deck rules take effect today

Richard Watts - Times Colonist

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Vehicles fill the parking lot at Swartz Bay ferry terminal on the busy Thanksgiving weekend. Passengers are now prohibited from remaining on any car deck with closed doors at both ends and limited openings along the sides.
Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

B.C. Ferries passengers will no longer be allowed to stay in their vehicles when parked on the lower deck.

The policy, which comes into force today, prohibits passengers from remaining on any car deck with closed doors at both ends and limited openings along the sides.

Until today, B.C. Ferries had been the only ferry operator in Canada to allow passengers to remain below decks in enclosed spaces.

The change brings the corporation’s policy in line with Transport Canada regulations that prohibit passengers from remaining in their vehicle on any closed deck on a vessel that is underway.

Darren Johnston, director of B.C. Ferries fleet operations, said the principal concern is the risk of fire and smoke erupting in an enclosed space. “The potential risk is not insignificant,” he said. “That’s why these regulations are being imposed.”

For example, fluids can leak onto hot engines, causing smoke or fire under the hood.
With the lower deck reserved for transport trucks, a fire could spread to something like a lumber-laden trailer.

“It’s not something we can get out of, because it’s mandated by regulation,” Johnston said. “But it’s a safety issue, so we don’t fundamentally disagree.”

B.C. Ferries had been complying with the Transport Canada regulation, which has been around since 2007, by carrying out continuous patrols of the car deck. The corporation said the change in its policy comes after new risk assessments and consultations with the federal body.

Passengers parked on the upper car deck, which is not fully enclosed, will be allowed to remain in their vehicles during sailings.

B.C. Ferries said it will try to accommodate requests from people with “special circumstances” such as medical difficulties who wish to park on the upper deck so they can stay in their vehicle.

Those passengers are asked to arrive early at the terminal and make their requirements known at the ticket booth. They will then be directed to the appropriate loading lane reserved for passengers destined for the upper deck.

rwatts@timescolonist.com