April 19th will mark exactly three years that I’ve been a pet-toting walk-on passenger with BC Ferries. In that time, I can truly say much has changed but that so much more has not.
In these three years I’ve become part of an unspoken community of canine lovers, meeting in the bowels of BC Ferries’ ships. We’ve found camaraderie through our stories and our lamenting over our steely situations. At times we’ll watch each others’ dogs so we can take turns making a run for the bathroom. Watching our dogs wrestle WWF-style with each other always brings out laughter! Sometimes during the Christmas season, someone will be thoughtful enough to bring along some Baileys Irish cream, topping up all our coffee cups to stave off the cold air.
Photo: Mark & Andrea Busse on Flickr
We’ve learned to survive together and make do with the hand we’ve all been dealt together. And I get it – our problems are the definition of “first world problems”. That fact has not escaped me.
When I first adopted Jordy and was instantly relegated to crossing the Georgia Strait on one of the car decks, a few issues reared their ugly heads from the first voyage. On adoption day, Rebecca was with me and nabbed a video of the Coastal Renaissance’s pet area. Little did I know at the time that that was as good as it would get.
Video: Miss604 on Flickr
Following that maiden voyage, I started to blog about the pet areas on BC Ferries. I sent e-mails to head office and even to one of the captains on my usual route. I had phone conversations with customer service. It was never just about me – I was attempting to pioneer change on behalf of any and all dog owners.
Within a year, change had started to spring up on the vessels! A new dog area was installed on the fourth deck of most vessels, enclosing the pet-toting passengers, providing heat lamps and shields from the wind. It was definitely a start, and it was a great one.
BC Ferries has become increasingly responsive in dialoguing with the public, particularly on their Twitter account. Suggestions I’ve made in my correspondence with the ferries have, in fact, been taken into account. It’s fantastic to see, particularly because they’re a company with the responsibility of public accountability.
Photo: Michael Ho
So is traveling with a dog on BC Ferries’ vessels a near-perfect experience? Far from it, but it is getting better. The pet areas on BC Ferries’ vessels would be greatly improved if – at minimum – the following were swiftly implemented:
Like anything in life, there’s always room for improvement. After riding on the Horseshoe Bay to Departure Bay route this past Easter weekend, some of the needs were glaringly obvious. On Good Friday, I counted at least 12 dogs plus passengers with enough room in the pet area for only four or five dogs. Disgustingly, I had no choice but to sit on the floor.
As ferry fares increase, more and more riders will be ditching their vehicles and walking on. BC Ferries simply must acknowledge this fact and make the safety and space amendments that are necessary. Simple improvements to the comfort level on the car decks really isn’t asking for too much either.
If you’re a pet owner, a ferry traveler, or both, please consider popping a quick e-mail to the Ferries. Change has started, so let’s keep the ball rolling!
Concessions made for cyclists by the City of Vancouver has been hotly-contested over the past several years, and it seems that the debate is shifting to the Comox Valley. The 5th Street Bridge is one of only two crossings over the Puntledge River in downtown Courtenay and local cyclists are pushing for a connection that’s both pedestrian and bicycle-friendly.
Photo: Richard Eriksson on Flickr
As it stands today, the 5th Street Bridge is narrow, boasting only two lanes for vehicle traffic with awkward sidewalks on either side of the bridge. Recently the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition (CVCC) approached Courtenay City Council and presented the idea of a bridge from the foot of Sixth Street, across the river to Simms Millennium Park (as illustrated below).
A survey conducted in 2009 by the CVCC concluded that 70% of those interviewed found cycling conditions in the Comox Valley to be dangerous and that almost all of them would cycle more often if conditions improved. [source]
A safe crossing for cyclists and pedestrians – both of which frequently use Simms Millennium Park and the adjacent Lewis Park – is crucial for the expansion of sustainable transport in the Comox Valley.
Ed Schum of the CVCC summed up the importance of it: “It doesn’t matter if we believe in the global problem of climate change or not, all one has to do is travel around our Valley and see the traffic congestion, hear the increased noise and smell the exhaust fumes to realize that this is not good for our health, our environment or our lifestyle.”
Courtenay City Council hasn’t commented on when a decision will be made.
What are your thoughts? Is a pedestrian and bicycle-friendly bridge crucial in the Comox Valley?
My home has changed. The neighbourhood that surrounds me has undergone a transformation in the last 48 hours that is not unlike being refined by fire, if you will. Anyone who has opened a newspaper, flicked on the news or clicked onto a blog since the evening of June 15th is well aware of the events that transpired in Vancouver and so going into any kind of detail is pointless.
Everyone has a voice and the impressions and ideals of the City of Vancouver have been stretched thin in the wake of Wednesday evening. It’s quite luxurious for anyone to have an opinion from the comforts of a distance – whether based on one’s biases, their past experiences with Vancouver or even their championing of our fair city.
A far more realistic take, however, will come from those that have witnessed everything with their own eyes from within the eye of the storm.
Downtown Vancouver is my home, it is my neighbourhood and it is the place where many of my friends live. It’s comprised of the streets we walk on to get to work, the corner stores from where we buy gallons of milk and late-night snacks and the parks we walk our dogs to on sunny days. It is “home” by the very definition of the word.
For any group of people to come into one’s neighbourhood and physically destroy everything that surrounds is incomprehensibly heartbreaking. As I made the daily walk to my office yesterday, it took every ounce of me to blink back tears seeing what had been done to my home, to the places and faces I see and greet each and every day.
Whether this happened in urban Vancouver or on tree-lined streets in a tiny interior town matters not. In a few short hours, the morale of an entire community was derailed by thousands of outsiders – people who did not live in the area, pay taxes to the local government or care for even a minute about the responsibility they as citizens of our planet have. As I stepped onto my balcony late that night, as the riot squad was advancing up my street just metres below me, neighbours of mine were on their balconies also shouting “go home!” to the intruders below.
When one’s home, body or rights to safety are being violated, fighting back is a perfectly acceptable response. Not with actions, not by fighting fire with fire, but by banding together as a community. By rising up from the ashes and broken glass and taking a stand against the violation.
Greater Vancouver residents from all walks of life converged on the downtown core as the sun rose yesterday morning and transformed this City. It was restored, it was rebuilt and it was renewed. Not simply by appearance but also in spirit.
Those of us that call Vancouver home will not tolerate or allow anyone to define us by the reckless actions of intruding outsiders. Painting this city’s residents with the same brush is hasty at best. Unless you live in Vancouver, unless you experienced the events of that particular night, your opinion is wholly moot. Those of us that call Vancouver home will not allow our home to be tarnished, but instead will ensure that the beauty and close comfort of our community will shine brightly.
While I may not always adore city life and I may have days where I’m more than ready to throw in the towel, this is still my home. This is still the place that I am proud of. It’s where I lay my head. It’s the streets that I walk to get to work. It’s the corner store where I buy gallons of milk and fulfill my late night chocolate cravings. It’s the parks that I take Jordy to on sunny days like day.
It’s beautiful and it’s mine and it’s ours.
[Thank you, Tony, for encouraging me to share my thoughts on all of this.]
Denman and Hornby Islands, Fulford Harbour, Gabriola Island, Sointula, Alert Bay: these are just a handful of Vancouver Island communities that heavily rely on our Province’s ferry system. Oversea transport is vital to the economic stability to these communities and to our Island as a whole.
You’ve no doubt heard by now that BC Ferries’ CEO David Hahn announced that, if permitted, the ferries will be increasing fares over the next four years. With a 20 percent hike on major routes, a 50 percent hike on minor routes and a whopping 100 percent increase on northern routes, it’s clear that these fare increases are set to pack a crippling wallop on residents’ wallets. [source]
Hahn asserts that either the fares must be increased or the Provincial government needs to kick in an additional $25 million on top of what is already contributed. If neither happens, BC Ferries will be forced to cut services.
If this is true, it seems only sensible to examine what the corporation deems to be “services”. As a taxpaying citizen that uses the ferry system on a very regular basis, I have absolutely no problem with my hard-earned money paying for ferry repairs, terminal upgrades, inevitable increases in fuel cost or even the added cost of labour in the interest of safety. In fact, I am incredibly grateful that BC Ferries does what they do. My question regarding so-called services is in respect of the add-ons – the shine and sheen that our world class ferry fleet has come to be known for.
Like those in smaller communities who rely on this form of transport as part of their daily commute or a sustainer of local business, riding BC Ferries is essential to all of us. Since the Province handed the helm over in 2003, transforming BC Ferries into an independent commercial company, a dramatic shift has taken place. The ferries have swung from essential to luxury. New vessels with cushy seats, gourmet food, sparkly items in the gift shops, private lounges, spa services and state-of-the-art entertainment options have taken to the seas. What are these expenses costing us and who have they been designed for?
This is a far cry from the once simple vessels with space for passengers, basic food and facilities dedicated to getting passengers from Point ‘A’ to Point ‘B’. Between revamping the vessels, the incredible salaries afforded to BC Ferries’ upper management and glitzy tourism campaigns, I simply question who BC Ferries is doing business for.
Does BC Ferries need to spend your money and mine on luxurious on-ship facilities? No – we need safe, secure vessels to take us from one destination to another.
Does BC Ferries need to put public accountability ahead of their own agenda? You bet. Without us, their business would sink.
Should BC Ferries look at slashing funds from other areas of their annual budget before reaching deeper into the public’s pockets? This one’s a no-brainer.
The rising costs of fuel, labour and services are a part of life and an expected component in a forward-moving economy. We each have the personal responsibility to ourselves to ask the crucial questions. Does this ferry service work for you and your family? I would love to see the ferry service shift back to meeting the very basic needs of our Province’s residents as it did from the 1960s to the 1990s.
At the end of the day, whether or not BC Ferries’ proposed fare hikes are justifiable is up to you and me. The BC Ferry Commission will be reviewing the issue, along with our Provincial government, and the fare increases won’t hit us until 2012 – if they’re even approved. However, there are a number of things you can do.
Being that on my regular ferry trips I travel with my dog, my frustrations with riding the ferries are nothing new. However, facing yet another hike in fares to sit in inappropriate conditions makes me very upset. The issue goes back, once again, to whether or not we’re getting value for the dollar in terms of service. If BC Ferries would take my money and invest in bringing up the standard of the pet areas, I’d gladly dish out twice the cash I pay now for fares.
If the increased fares, decreased service or even the pet areas are of utmost concern to you, I strongly encourage you to flex your vocal muscles and send the Ferries a note. BC Ferries is highly committed to customer service and has a great public consultation program, consisting of advisory committees dedicated to engaging you and I in decision-making processes. The Ferry Advisory Committee is led by terminal liaisons. For a complete list of contacts and e-mails, you can find them here.
Last night, in a landslide vote of 18-1, Victoria city council voted to ban those under the age of 18 from using tanning beds in the Greater Victoria region. This precedent-setting decision is being applauded by health care groups and physicians as Victoria is the first city in all of Canada to put such a ban into place.
Photo: Valerie Yermal on Flickr
The largest controversy over tanning is in the fact that indoor tanning is largely contributed to skin cancer despite some in the industry labeling the practice as “safe”. The new by-law has been volleyed around city council for more than five years and now the city has the power to enforce regulations, carrying penalties between $250 to $2,000 if the by-law is broken. Effective immediately, all those appearing to be under 25 will be asked for identification. [source]
Much like those under 19 cannot buy cigarettes due to their cancer-causing components, I admire Victoria city council for providing yet another avenue by which to protect the health of its city’s youth.
What do you think? Should tanning be banned to those under 18? Would another age be more suitable for the by-law?
On our trips home to the Island, the journey for Jordy and I is both clockwork and routine. After taking the 257 bus to Horseshoe Bay, we wander in the waterfront grass for a bit before lining up with the other walk-on passengers to board the ferry. Rather than settling into the pet area, Jordy and I make a beeline for the stairwell landing between car decks. While it’s an unofficial space that I share with other dog owners traveling the Georgia Strait, it’s warmer and dryer than the pet area.
Photo: sunnyfunnyyellow on Flickr
This past Friday, however, I was stopped by one of the BC Ferries employees en route to the stairwell. The employee asked me if the stairwell was, in fact, where I was headed to. Once I confirmed that I was, the employee nodded in the affirmative and simply responded with “good.” As it turns out, this employee wanted to say more than direct me where to go.
I attempted to keep walking but was again stopped by this employee who whispered to me “you should e-mail BC Ferries and you should do it this week!” I questioned the reason behind this and was informed that the vessel I had boarded was to be taken out of service within a week or two for retro-fitting but that absolutely no plans were scheduled to amend the pet area in any manner. And further, the employee told me that senior staff on the ship were encouraging employees to pass this word along because even the ship’s staff were aware of how grossly inadequate the pet area of this and most other vessels truly are. I found this perplexing after being assured by the corporation last year that changes would be made sooner rather than later.
More than a year ago, I wrote a post outlining many of the deficiencies of the pet areas on BC Ferries’ vessels. Some of these included:
A recent comment within the last month from a reader informed me that not a single thing had been done to the pet area on that vessel and that the deficiencies were still glaring.
Following writing that particular piece, I was engaged in a series of back-and-forth e-mails and phone calls with someone at BC Ferries’ head office. Being that I wanted a record of our communication, I requested that all contact be through e-mail rather than the lengthy voicemails left on my cell phone. It would seem that my request was refused based on the fact that I heard nothing further from the corporation in any regard.
What I was told, however, was that my requests for improvements to basic amenities would be taken under strong advisement and that the corporation recognized the need for pet area improvements. I was encouraged to “schedule travel plans from now on to coincide with the Coastal Renaissance” since the pet area on that particular vessel has much better standards.
Unfortunately, the Coastal Renaissance is only used during the busy tourist months and one can assume that the vessel was designed to cater to tourists, not to the BC residents who rely on the ferry system for basic transport. Last year I received an anonymous e-mail from a BC Ferries employee who sent me this link; it would appear that the supposedly fuel efficient Super C class boats actually consume more fuel than their decades-old counterparts.
At the end of the day, it is not my ultimate goal to drag BC Ferries’ reputation or name through the mud. The corporation is a legacy of this Province and one of the most beautiful ways by which to see coastal British Columbia. It is, however, a crucial part of how British Columbia functions and, as a pet owner, they’ve left me with a perpetual sour taste in my mouth.
Would I pay a higher fare for a comfortable, adequate pet area? You betcha. Would other pet-toting passengers pay higher fares too? Undoubtedly. Next time you’re on a ferry, ask a passenger traveling with a pet how they feel. The sentiments are unanimous.
All you have to do is look at the photos above and ask yourself if those are conditions under which you’d be comfortable traveling, particularly in the upcoming chilly winter months. Pet owner, animal lover or not – they’re inadequate for anyone and everyone. And, 18 months later, BC Ferries is seemingly still unwilling to amend the issues.
If you feel so inclined, I urge you to please take a moment and send direct feedback to BC Ferries and encourage the corporation to take this matter seriously.
BC Ferries – Interactive Feedback
BC Ferries – Direct E-mail
As it enters its final three days, the horse death toll at the Calgary Stampede has reached six – a number that Stampede spokesperson Doug Fraser describes as “very unusual and very upsetting.” [source] However, death is nothing new to the annual event. In fact, since 1986, more than 50 chuckwagon horses alone have died as a result of various levels of participation at the Calgary Stampede. [source] This number does not include other animals involved, such as grown cattle and baby calves used in rope-tying events.
Photo: NailaJ on Flickr
There’s no definitive reason for the deaths of the six horses at this year’s event. Cause has ranged from broken legs, cardiac arrest due to stress and even a horse that was bucking so wildly it broke its own back and was subsequently put down. [source] Not unlike horse racing, these beasts are forced to perform, holding up their 1,000-pound bodies on ankles not much thicker than yours or mine. Ouch.
All of this leads me to ask only one question: What is the magic number?
Which number of dead animals serves as the pivot point for the Calgary Stampede to move from “family entertainment” to “unnecessary cruelty”? Though the event is considered an Alberta tradition – mini donuts included – the notion of tradition does not automatically translate to ethical or humane.
Many fans of the Calgary Stampede will argue that it’s the nature of the beast, so to speak, and that these horses are simply performing in ways that their bodies were designed to perform. While it’s true that horses run, buck and jump in a natural environment, the Calgary Stampede creates an entirely different circumstance.
It’s interesting that this annual event – and ensuing annual debate – is surfacing simultaneously with a similar deliberation in Vancouver. Vancouver Parks Board Commissioner Stuart Mackinnon is putting forth a motion to hold a public referendum and consider whether or not whales should be held in captivity. Using animals for entertainment or “sport” – as in the stampede, horse racing, zoos and aquariums – is a hotly contested debate, one in which opinions are always strongly divided.
Where do you stand on the issue?
Despite being a fairly capable gal, I’d never attempt to cut my own hair. Living in the city without a car sometimes forces me to rely on the professional assistance of a taxi driver. And while I am completely competent in the kitchen and proficient at painting my toenails, sometimes I simply don’t feel like doing either.
When dining out, having my dog groomed or grabbing a cab home on a rainy day, I’m of the view that I’m paying for the service, not so much the product. I’m paying for a service that, for one reason or another, I choose not to do on my own. And if it so happens that said service is above par or entirely phenomenal, I never hesitate to tack on a generous tip.
Photo: dooq on Flickr
On our recent vacation, Rebecca and I almost never tipped below 20%. It seems as though 15-18% is an acceptable standard, while tipping 10% or less can be likened to spelling out “TIP” in pennies. What I found most surprising on our trip was that, in chatting with friends in NYC that work as restaurant servers or bartenders, Canadians are notoriously “cheap” tippers, generally hovering around the 10% mark at best.
I started thinking about the practice of tipping and how much it varies around the globe. It’s never something I take issue with because, most often, service and expectations are in sync with each other. However, adding a gratuity onto any service can be a tricky and sticky process, so how do you determine if and how much you tip?
I can say with 100% certainty that there is nothing at which I am an expert. There are, however, a few things of which I am incredibly passionate about. Orca whales are one of those things. While there are topics worth biting my tongue over, this is one passion I freely share my firm opinion on.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
The story of the whale trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida that was killed by a captured orca whale – more commonly known as the “killer whale” – has reached all corners of the globe since Wednesday afternoon’s tragedy. An event such as this one naturally triggers a landslide of questions. Perhaps the most commonly asked question is simply: how could this happen?
Dawn Brancheau was an experienced trainer, having worked with these magnificent mammals for 16 years. The whale at the centre of this story is a 12,000 pound male named Tillicum, a creature that Dawn was incredibly familiar with and one whom she had created a working relationship with through training. So what provoked Tillicum to drag Dawn under the water and into an untimely and heart-rending death?
The question of how this could have happened seems, to me, to have a rather simple reasoning. Orca whales, like any animal on this planet, is at its core a wild animal. No amount of domestication can ensure a human’s ultimate safety around animals – whether we’re dealing with whales and dolphins or cats and dogs. As an expert in her field, I have no doubt that Dawn was fully aware of the daily risks she took in working with Tillicum. While what happened is wholly unfortunate, at the end of the day it can’t be unexpected either.
Photo: TylerIngram on Flickr
Many news reports that have come out in the wake of this event have suggested that it’s likely Tillicum simply thought of Dawn as a “toy” and was merely playing with her. Though defined as predatory, orca whales (which are actually a species of dolphin, not whale) aren’t generally thought to be a threat to humans and are, more often than not, peaceful creatures. That said, it can be contended that Tillicum was simply doing what comes naturally to him. If, on the other hand, what happened was rooted in aggression, we could consider his environment a chief contributing factor.
Oceanic mammals were created with the sea as their home and playground. To pluck them from the deep blue and confine them to the equivalent of a bathtub will surely have an effect. Imagine, if you will, being contained in a single room, left to circle endlessly while people peered in through windows on all four sides. It would be enough to drive you mad, wouldn’t it?
And so the great debate regarding whales in captivity has kicked up again and everyone is sure to have an opinion. Scientists claim that capturing whales is the best way by which to study them and learn of their nature and habits in order to assist in conservation programs. It would seem to me that the most effective environment to study whale behavior regarding conservation is in the wild. But then again, what do I know? I’m not an orca expert, just an orca lover.
Contribute your two cents: Do you think keeping whales in captivity is an acceptable practice? Should they be released into the wild?
When Vancouver and Whistler were first awarded the 2010 Olympic Winter Games seven years ago, I was less than enthused. I’ve never been a fan of the Olympics generally and wasn’t pumped for them to be held in British Columbia specifically. My sentiments spent the next near-decade snowballing, tangling up in an avalanche of over-spending, criticizing reports, suffering social programs and homelessness to name a few. While you can talk to me until you’re blue in the face, I will never, ever agree that athletic facilities trump any of the problems within our Province that are rapidly deteriorating. That said, I also can’t deny the fact that the Games are very much here.
This is where I admit to waving the white flag, eat my words and declare my own hypocrisy. Despite it all, I am very, very excited for the celebrations at hand.
I suppose it began last Thursday. I made my way to 49th Avenue in an attempt to catch Steve Nash carry the torch and felt entirely unpatriotic. In a sea of red and white, I stood out like a sore thumb in my purple basketball jersey. I intended to get Nash’s attention and, seemingly, it worked. Without red and white, I felt entirely alienated so made the decision that I’d actually sport Canada’s colours the next day as the torch made its way past my office downtown.
The excitement on Georgia Street Friday morning was incredible with a sea of proud Canadians stretched, quite literally, as far as my eyes could see. And as we cheered, applauded and shouted, everyone was speculating who’d ultimately light the cauldron that night at BC Place Stadium. I had to admit that even I, the Olympic Cynic, was curious. [Cue that white flag I was telling you about.]
Curled up on my couch that evening, I sat mesmerized as so many of the beautiful elements of our country’s culture unfolded before millions of eyes around the globe. British Columbia is only a fraction of the rich tapestry that is Canada, made up of people, images, songs, history and events that have shaped and transformed the home in which you and I live today. Perhaps the hydraulic issue served as an unintended measure of proof that, despite how breathtaking Canada is, it is not perfect. We’d be fools to deny such flaws exist but can instead unite in the pride that threads through us all and hope that one day we’ll see a country in which the final pieces click into place.
I’ve been called many names in the past: Homebody, Little Miss Anti-Social and even Not A Joiner. While those labels can certainly ring true at the best of times, now is not one of them. The movement and spirit of Canadian pride has spread across this city like wildfire. Think of Vancouver as being likened to Zombieland – minus the fleshy tenancies but instead with a healthy dose of infectious patriotism.
The ’round-the-clock music, cheers, screams and partying no longer cause me to roll my eyes but instead stifle giggles. If anything, this event has served as a personal reminder of how truly magical British Columbia is. It’s easy to take the mountains and ocean and blue sky and fresh air for granted each day when it’s on my doorstep. To be given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see those elements of our nation through the eyes of countless international visitors is a gift. While I certainly refuse to turn a blind eye to the critical needs on the streets of my city and in the towns of my province, it would also be a shame were I to miss out on such an amazing opportunity in my own front yard.
The strangest thing about this all is the notion that in a few short weeks, the streets will have emptied out, Robson Square will be once again quiet on my early morning walks to work and we will all be left wondering if it was just a dream…