Being Prepared for the Worst

Playing a little catch-up with an item abandoned in the maelstrom of malcontents seeking to remove a newly elected government of the dis-United States of America. A frightening spectacle in a country so long the boastful champion of democracy.

It was with that hurricane battering from our neighbour south of the 49th Parallel that an issue in our own backyard, which had been testing our community tempers for some time, seemed to lose importance. 

So, here’s the thing: Vancouver Island, where I live, has excellent transportation links with the Lower Mainland and the State of Washington. By air, they’re just minutes away and by ferry across the Salish Sea from about 105 minutes to the mainland and a lot less to Port Angeles.

Before COVID-19, BC Ferries ran every hour in the summer – a spectacular mini-cruise between various gulf islands with glimpses of island life just short of heaven.

Before COVID-19, the lower car deck on the ferries was reserved for vehicles only. Transport Canada required the car driver and any passengers to leave their vehicles and find their pedestrian way to higher “open decks” closer to lifeboats and other safety equipment, and well above the water line to make evacuation easier should disaster strike. 

Then came COVID-19 and infection protection measures requiring face masks and social distancing. Car drivers, already resenting the order to leave their vehicles, must now move to a higher open deck for the brief ocean voyage, objecting to the modest interference with their personal preference. They argue that being forced to leave their vehicles and mingle with walk-on passengers in their hundreds places them in a higher hazard zone and invites pandemic contagion.

Social media outlets and letters to the editor became the favoured paths of protest. Talk show hosts and print pundits appeared to enjoy the protest as relief from our cousins’ uncouth behaviour south of the 49th. And Transport Canada heard their cries and suspended the “no passengers on closed lower decks during the voyage.”

Car drivers welcomed the change, but the joy was short-lived. In a couple of weeks, the ban was back. Protests were renewed and strengthened by the support of BC Ferry and Marine Workers Union and the clout of Provincial Premier John Horgan.

Letters to Victoria’s Times Colonist kept the issue in focus until January 20 when a front-page story by business editor Andrew Duffy reported Canada Transport had replied to an email requesting reasons for restoring the ban of passengers on closed decks during a voyage.

Duffy’s story was modestly accusatory “Transport Canada won’t budge on ferry deck regulation.” The implication was that Transport Canada wasn’t listening to reason, but the content of the response as quoted by Duffy conveys something different.

In clear language free of bureaucratic baffle-gab, it reads: “Remaining in a vehicle on an enclosed vehicle deck while a ferry is operating is not safe for passengers. Enclosed vehicle decks are specifically designed to contain smoke and fire in order to protect the other levels of the ship and allow more time for passengers and crew to stay safe and evacuate.

“No country in the world allows people to remain in their vehicles on enclosed vehicle decks. If an emergency were to happen – say a fire, flooding or collision – evacuating everyone safely would be extremely difficult. In fact, the loss of life could be catastrophic.”

For good measure, Duffy and his newspaper deserve a thank you for sharing with us this advice from Transport Canada: “Ferry travellers do not need to choose between personal and marine safety. By physical distancing, wearing a mask and leaving the enclosed deck while the ferry is operating – passengers and crew can stay safe.”

Essential ferry travellers , who will probably continue to complain about being ordered to leave their vehicles for little more than an hour, should read the Transport Canada reasoning again — and recite the maxim they have known to be wise since childhood but so often ignore: “Be prepared for the worst while hoping it never happens.”

One comment

  1. My pre-COVID-19 recollection of the higher decks is that they’re not crowded in the least and that the social distancing now advised would not present a problem. I would be terrified to sit in my vehicle; like being trapped in an elevator.

    I recall crossing the English Channel in the 1980s in a hovercraft. Passengers had to cram into a room where social distancing would be impossible. Good thing these beasts were put out to pasture before COVID-19 arrived.

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