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B.C. Ferries says it’s taking steps to ensure fewer cancellations

The company is anticipating that between June 1 and Sept. 5, eight million passengers and 3.2 million vehicles will board about 56,000 sailings on 25 routes.

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After last summer was plagued by problems with vessels ­having to be pulled from service, B.C. Ferries said Wednesday it’s taking steps to ensure its entire 37-ship fleet is available to carry an expected record number of passengers in 2024.

Thousands of bookings had to be reorganized and travel plans altered when Coastal Celebration was sidelined for part of July. That was followed by Coastal Renaissance going out of service on Aug. 17 for what turned out to be more than six months.

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After rotor problems took out Coastal Renaissance, rotors have been replaced on that vessel and on Coastal Celebration, while the work is still underway on Coastal Inspiration. The total repair job is expected to cost $8.5 million.

To improve reliability of service, B.C. Ferries is taking steps, including tightening up the refit schedule, which started in September and is expected to be completed a few weeks earlier than usual, so there’s a buffer before the tourist season begins in earnest next month.

B.C. Ferries is also hoping to see fewer service cancellations due to crew shortages. It said it’s hiring 600 new staff members for the summer season, has shifted more casual workers into regular positions and is offering casual staff guaranteed hours.

The four per cent fuel surcharge, which offsets fluctuations in fuel prices, is being eliminated on June 1 for the remainder of the year to make fares more affordable, the company said.

“We are very confident” the season will unfold as planned, said Darren Johnston, vice-president of marine operations, although he added that sailings will always be affected by poor weather and medical or marine emergencies.

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The company is anticipating that between June 1 and Sept. 5, eight million passengers and 3.2 million vehicles will board about 56,000 sailings on 25 routes.

Last year, the summer period saw 7.8 million passengers and three million vehicles.

Nearly 350 sailings will be added on the busiest routes starting partway through June.

A third ferry, Queen of Alberni, is being added to the Duke Point-Tsawwassen route, a 6 a.m. sailing is being added between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen and more sailings are coming between Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast.

When there’s a mechanical issue, Johnston said, engineering, staff-scheduling, communications and customer-care teams come together to assess the potential scope of the disruption.

They quickly — sometimes within an hour — have a mitigation plan in place and implemented, he said.

Teams look at how to limit the amount of time a vessel is out of service.

If that’s not possible, contingency plans are deployed that could include using water taxis on smaller routes or redeploying ships.

Lindsey Matthews, vice-president of public affairs and marketing, is urging travellers to avoid sailing waits by booking in advance and travelling at less-busy times, typically early morning or later in the day.

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More saver fares are being offered than in the past for off-peak sailings to smooth out demand and reduce congestion.

B.C. Ferries has also installed live webcams at terminals for smaller routes that don’t have reservations, and improved “current conditions” information online to help customers plan.

For those who have to wait at terminals, B.C. Ferries is adding features at its busiest terminals including misting stations, water stations, tents for shelter and children’s activities such as face painting.

B.C. Ferries offers these tips for summer travel:

• Book in advance.

• Consider taking sailings with saver fares.

• Use public transit or travel as a walk-on passenger.

• Arrive early. Customers with a booking should be at the terminal 45 minutes before the sailing and those without a booking should be prepared to wait.

• Be up to date on sailing conditions by going to bcferries.com/current-conditions and sign up to receive service notices about the route.

• Remember that parking lots can fill up quickly.

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