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Province cancels resident priority for BC Ferries

The newly-revised order removes the requirement to give priority access for passengers sailing to their primary residence.
A small group of frustrated Sunshine Coast residents paraded through downtown Sechelt July 26 demanding, among other things, priority loading on BC Ferries for medical travel. The province issued an order to that effect July 30. Photo by Sean Eckford/Coast Reporter

Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth has changed the ministerial order that directed BC Ferries to give priority to residents and essential goods and services during the COVID-19 state of emergency.

The new order drops resident priority and adds a clause to “ensure BC Ferries can implement all procedures necessary to provide priority medical-assured loading on the first available vessel for any individual, their vehicle and an escort.”

The original wording in Ministerial Order 84, first issued in March, was that BC Ferries “must implement all procedures necessary to ensure priority loading on ferries for the following: vehicles carrying essential goods and supplies; residents of ferry sailing destinations.” There was no mention of travel for medical purposes.

Farnworth confirmed in a July 30 release that the revised order removes the requirement to give priority access for passengers sailing to their primary residence.

“These new provisions will ensure that medical-assured loading is protected for people travelling by ferry for medical treatment. BC Ferries will also continue to give priority to vehicles carrying essential goods and supplies, and will need to consult the Province before changing or varying minimum ferry service levels,” Farnworth said in a July 30 release.

According to the ministry, people who need priority loading for medical treatment “must provide a doctor’s letter indicating the individual requires medical-assured loading for treatment at check-in, as well as a completed Travel Assistance Program (TAP) form.

“The doctor’s letter does not require a specific date or time, or number of occasions the person travelling requires medical-assured loading to receive medical treatment, but may specify a period of time of up to one year from the date of the letter within which the individual requires medical-assured loading.”

Both Powell River-Sunshine Coast MLA Nicholas Simons and BC Ferries CEO Mark Collins had approached the province calling for an end to resident priority.

Simons told Coast Reporter after Thursday’s announcement that “if Ferries is unable to properly administer resident priority,” he’s happy to see it end, for now at least, and a new order prioritizing medical travel put in place.

“I’ve heard from too many constituents, and advocates for constituents, that they’re unable to attend their doctor,” Simons said. “This is a time when a lot of rescheduled appointments are taking place [and] access to your medical professional is essential.”

Simons said he would have preferred a system that requires only a TAP form to prove someone is travelling for medical purposes and plans to follow up on whether the procedure can be further simplified.

Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee (FAC) chair Diana Mumford said the removal of the resident priority clause from the order was understandable because it had “become much more burdensome” as traffic continues to increase and “has not been without significant negative impacts for many.”

Mumford also said in an email to Coast Reporter that the procedure outlined by the province for getting priority under the revised order is not significantly different from the existing medical-assured loading rules, although it does allow a doctor’s letter to be valid for a year.

Mumford said the FAC has been working with BC Ferries and the Ministry of Health to get an easier process in place.

“We have had residents and physicians that do not know the detailed process, so patients have not been able to get the required documentation when needed,” she said. “There are also residents who have not been able to get this documentation that still try to have assistance at the terminal and are not accommodated on the next sailing for a number of reasons. They are then left to sit in line-ups for hours after having significant surgeries [or] procedures.”

Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said the government expects BC Ferries to put the public interest first and to continue monitoring demand and ensure adequate capacity as demand increases.

“We introduced these measures, with the public interest in mind, at the beginning of the pandemic when ferry routes were significantly reduced. We wanted to ensure people could get home and to help ensure essential services for remote communities were maintained,” Trevena said.

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