Posted on June 5, 2009
FAIRNESS ON THE FERRIES
The power of persistence can be a powerful thing. Less than a week ago, I posted a letter I had written to BC Ferries. With that post I included a number of photos I recently took while a passenger on the Queen of Coquitlam vessel.
Yesterday I was fortunate to have a discussion with someone at BC Ferries’ head office in Victoria. While part of me is glad to have had the conversation and hear that my concerns and suggestions were well received by the corporation, the other part of me still feels a bit discouraged. However, the discussion was mostly fruitful and quite a few points were touched on and addressed.
- When the first ships of the fleet were built in the 1960s and 1970s, walk-on passengers with pets were almost unheard of. At that time, the designated pet areas were actually designed to be a place to essentially leave your dog while sitting on the passenger decks for the voyage. Therefore, passenger comfort in the pet area was not a consideration while these ships were designed and built.
- In addition to the welcome reception of my letters, the BC Ferries representative confirmed that all those who received the photos were disgusted by them and that it was unanimous that the conditions were deplorable and unacceptable. I was then informed that the Queen of Coquitlam is scheduled to be pulled from service in the immediate and retrofitted in order to be brought up to an acceptable and civilized standard. These changes will be complete before the summer tourist season begins.
- Apparently heaters have been installed in the pet areas of most of the older ships. It is anticipated that all older ships will have heaters by the winter.
- One safety issue I raised with the pet areas on the older ships was that of excessive exhaust and toxic emissions from the vehicles on the vehicle decks. While it was agreed that this concern is of great importance, this health issue still remains unaddressed as no potential remedy seems to have been considered.
- Another key area that I felt some fantastic progress can and will be made in is that of passenger comfort. While it is important that the pet areas be somewhat “utilitarian” in design for ease of cleaning, vinyl-covered seats are just as easily wiped as seats constructed of metal or wire mesh. Also, my suggestion to install a water fountain (for both humans and pets) and even possibly a vending machine on one of the car decks seemed potentially feasible. It is my understanding that these recommendations are being formally submitted to the corporation for consideration.
- With regard to one unisex washroom being installed on the vehicle deck, this is apparently not doable due to space constraints. The alternative idea offered is to leave your pet with a fellow passenger or someone you are traveling with. Being that neither of these options are always going to be available or desirable (Jordy is not simply a piece of luggage), a singular washroom stall is an idea that needs to be revisited by the corporation.
- As mentioned in my letter, it is of paramount concern that announcements cannot be heard while in the pet areas. I am informed that, in the event of an emergency, crew members are designated to retrieve all passengers and dogs in the pet area and bring them to a safe place.
- BC Ferries does not maintain the same policy as TransLink with regard to pets in public areas. While allergies, food preparation and potentially aggressive dogs are the top concerns by the corporation, I do understand the reason for this policy – within reason. However, that said, I would still strongly encourage the corporation to consider designating a small, strictly quarantined area on one of the passenger decks in which all dogs will be welcome (providing that the dogs are well-behaved). That way, any other passengers who do not wish to be near the pets can avoid them altogether while those traveling with pets can enjoy the same comfort as other passengers.
As our society moves closer and closer to going green in every way that we can, more people will be ditching their cars in favour of transit. On any given sailing, more than a handful of dogs can be found on the vehicle decks with their owners. As time passes, I have no doubt we will see this number swell and the need increase. That said, addressing these issues is critical to the functioning of the invaluable ferry system.
Overall, I am satisfied with the initial response received from BC Ferries and I am very grateful to the individual at head office who took the time to engage in this discussion with me. I look forward to our follow-up discussion in the coming weeks to track the progress. It is not the intention of BC Ferries to make us feel like “second class citizens,” but I had to admit that feeling that way is somewhat inevitable. However, I also felt that I was heard and that my concerns are being taken quite seriously. If you are a pet owner and one who travels on BC Ferries, please take a moment to send a quick e-mail to the corporation to encourage them and show that you support change for all of us.
While I believe there is still a great deal of work and much room for improvement, even the corporation readily admits that this continues to be an evolution. Change doesn’t happen overnight and while these improvements may be gradual, I have faith that we will see more serious attention paid to those traveling on BC Ferries by foot with their fur babies. The dogs are here to stay.