Posted on May 31, 2009
BC FERRIES DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOU OR ME
On May 19, 2009, I sent an e-mail to BC Ferries. Aside from the Customer Service office, I also sent this e-mail directly to the Captain of Fleet Operations for routes between Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, the Manager of Community Relations and the Liaison Committee contact for the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay route. A week passed and I received no response in any manner – not even so much as a confirmation that my concerns were being forwarded to the appropriate persons for review.
I then re-sent the e-mail and asked for a proper response by end-of-business on Friday, May 29, 2009. Friday came and went with not a word. I have just e-mailed all the materials to Chris Olsen of CTV’s Olsen On Your Side. Here’s hoping that he will contact me.
Until then, for your reading and viewing displeasure, here are the photographs and the letter sent to BC Ferries to which I received no response.
BC Ferries Corporation
1112 Fort Street
Victoria, British Columbia
V8V 4V2 Canada
To: BC Ferries Customer Service
To: Captain Dale Phipps, Marine Superintendent, Fleet Operations
To: Jason Bowman, Horseshoe Bay/Departure Bay Liaison Committee
To: Sarah Cotton, Manager of Community Relations
Re: Customer Service and Pet Policy on BC Ferries Vessels
I am a member of the public and a lifelong resident of British Columbia. Travel on BC Ferries has always been a part of my life and will continue to be. The service provided is essential to all British Columbians and is an important means of travel for those visiting our Province.
What has always been apparent to me is that exceptional customer service is of penultimate importance to BC Ferries, second only to passenger safety. This is evident in the planning, staffing and expert operation of the corporation and its fleet.
I have long been aware that BC Ferries has upheld a pet policy stating that pets can be transported on the vessels but that they must remain on vehicle decks at all times during the voyage (with the exception of guide dogs). Until recently, I was never a pet owner and was therefore unaffected by this policy. As I travel frequently on BC Ferries – up to several times each month – and now own a pet, I believe that this is something I need to very clearly address to BC Ferries Corporation.
Several weeks ago I was a passenger on the new and beautiful Coastal Renaissance ship and, as expected, stayed in the pet area with my small dog. While the room is bright and enclosed to avoid engine exhaust and cold air, I found it far less than comfortable. Many of the very basic amenities that BC Ferries passengers have come to expect were entirely unavailable to me. There was no washroom for me to use, no water fountain to provide fresh drinking water for my dog or myself (the installation of a vending machine for food might also be thoughtful), no heat or other electric source, wire-mesh chairs that were unbelievably uncomfortable for a near two-hour voyage and – most importantly – I was unable to hear any safety announcements and was therefore completely unaware of what to do or where to go in the event of an emergency. With the new luxury vessels that BC Ferries has recently welcomed into its fleet, the corporation had a great opportunity to ensure that an adequate area for pets and passengers would be installed, but it has failed in this regard.
For the time being after that trip, I had resigned myself to this as being my only option as a passenger, but still found it incredible that I was being charged the exact same fare as the numerous other passengers who were able to enjoy not only the most basic of amenities, but also the abundant passenger services that BC Ferries offers on its vessels. All this while my dog and I were essentially quarantined to a steel-walled room on a vehicle deck.
Over the recent long weekend, I was a passenger once again on the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay route, this time riding on the Queen of Oak Bay (this was, to the best of my recollection, the ship making the 2:00 p.m. voyage). Upon viewing the pet and passenger area on this ship, it was plain to see that the area contains a vast number of gross inadequacies including, but not limited to, the following:
- A floor that was entirely covered in a flakey layer of rust. I refused to allow my pet to even set foot on this floor. Any animal not properly vaccinated could easily be subjected to illness or disease;
- No part of the area had been sanitized within a recent period of time, if at all;
- One of the safety gates was entirely missing from the 1-foot gap between the wall and the exterior of the ship. Any smaller dog such as a chihuahua or terrier could have easily slipped between the bars and quite literally into the ocean;
- No source of running water for animals to consume;
- No speaker through which to hear safety announcements;
- A confined space not large enough to accommodate more than two or three dogs;
- Exposure to excessive exhaust and toxic pollutants from vehicles; and
- A lack of basic amenities that all passengers should be able to access, including a washroom, drinking water, comfortable air temperature, comfortable seating, et cetera.
I have attached a number of photographs that I took yesterday to further illustrate the points and conditions outlined above. Were any pet owner to continually maintain such conditions at home for their pet, I have no doubt that said animal would be seized by the British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (BC-SPCA).
After about 30 minutes of cold, rushing air and sea spray entering the pet and passenger area, I moved towards the inside area of the vehicle deck for some respite. A crew member came up to me and my dog soon after and told me I could move to one of the stairwell landings between vehicle decks because, in his words, “at least you’ll be a little bit warmer.” I cannot even begin to imagine how much worse winter trips will be when temperatures dip well below zero degrees.
While the gesture offered by your crew member was incredibly kind, I have one question for you: do you feel these are really and truly accommodations deemed appropriate and sufficient for paying customers of BC Ferries?
Another British Columbia transit authority operating out of the Greater Vancouver area, TransLink, also provides essential transport services for residents and tourists in British Columbia. The pet policy as stated on TransLink’s official website is as follows:
“Travelling with a furry friend? Welcome aboard! Pets, including dogs, cats, rabbits and small fur-bearing or feathered animals are allowed on transit as long as they are in small, hand-held cages. The cage or container must fit on your lap or at your feet.”
I think it is fantastic that TransLink welcomes pets, within reason, on buses, Skytrains and the Seabus. Guide dogs, naturally, are also always welcome. However, that being said, a dog is a dog is a dog. If BC Ferries prohibits pets with the exception of guide dogs on the basis that they are either: 1) allergy-inducing; or 2) a potential for mess through urination or bowel movements, then these grounds are moot. A guide dog can cause the same potential issues as any pet, so the reasons behind the policy would be irrelevant.
Like TransLink, I would encourage BC Ferries to amend their pet policy to allow small, well-behaved, contained animals in some passenger areas (with the exception of food services areas and childrens’ play areas) in the interests of passenger and pet comfort as well as to maintain the top-notch customer service that BC Ferries has become known for.
While a policy amendment would be most ideal and, in my opinion reasonable, what is most crucial in the immediate circumstance is that the alarming and horrific safety and sanitary deficiencies be remedied immediately. I believe that this truly is in the best interest of BC Ferries.
I can’t imagine that I am the only BC Ferries passenger who has ever raised these issues. Having discussed this with a few close friends – including some new residents in British Columbia – I was told “I’ve yet to be on any of the ferries and definitely would not ever consider taking [my dog] on one in the Summer – forget about Winter – after seeing what you have had to put up with.” Should an adequate response from BC Ferries not be received, I am very well prepared to extensively highlight these issues through strong local social media connections, as it has already proven to be a buzzed-about topic on blogs and Twitter. Should the issues require further media awareness, I would not hesitate to do so.
I truly appreciate the attention paid to my letter and my concerns and trust that BC Ferries Corporation will do what is best and in a way that will clearly display the integrity and ethical operating standards expected by the general public from BC Ferries.
Needless to say, the conditions were so disgusting that I would not let Jordy set-foot on the floor of the pet area. I could not identify a source for the bucket of water, so he wasn’t allowed to drink from that either.
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