Ferry marshalling manners
British Columbian drivers are, in general, very polite. A visitor from Colombia once remarked to me that if they had the lane merging system we have on the Lions Gate Bridge, there would be several accidents each day as drivers competed with each other to get into the limited number of lanes!
Even so, our current system of ferry marshalling can be a puzzle to most residents, let alone visitors. But there are a few simple rules, backed up by municipal bylaws, that enable us to load our cars on to the ferry in an orderly fashion.
At Horseshoe Bay, the system is simple: one merely drives to the left or right of the column of pillars that divide the Bowen loading lanes, depending on one’s final destination on Bowen – do you intend to turn left after arriving on Bowen or turn right or go straight ahead up the hill? Drivers should close up, leaving no gaps. All that is necessary is to remember to wake up when the line starts to move – most of us have seen exasperated drivers, stuck behind a sleeping driver, trying to wake them up so that the cars can load.
On Bowen it becomes more complicated. We depend on everyone playing fair: we do not have BC Ferries staff to marshal cars. But again the process is straight forward.
Drivers must park in the ferry marshalling lane starting at the control lights by the ferry ramp, without leaving any spaces, except for the yellow cross-hatched areas. Arriving early, and parking your car by your favourite coffee shop, leaving spaces in front of you is not good manners (and is likely in contravention of Bowen bylaw #133, in that while you eventually intend to go on the ferry, you are actually parking in the ferry lane for some other purpose, and thus could get a ticket).
There have always been problems with people jumping the ferry queue. In a small, tightly knit community this is unacceptable. Jumping the queue can mean that someone else, who arrived before you but took their place at the back of line, will not get on. Violators have been known to suffer the (verbal) consequences from other, more caring residents. Driving towards the head of the line to fill up empty spaces is a common occurrence, but can easily lead to misunderstandings. In any case, fitting a vehicle into a space without blocking a cross-hatched area, a driveway or other accesses from the street, is frequently open to criticism. Some people will argue that a bona fide ferry user should be allowed to fill up an empty space, if you can see the ferry dock, and can see that there are spaces. Since we do not have a clear bylaw on the subject, this is frequently done, but carries with it the very high probability for misunderstanding by others in the lineup.
At the top of the hill, the single marshalling lane becomes two lanes. Drivers are expected to merge, first from one lane and then the other (just as on the Lions Gate Bridge). There is a sign at the top of the hill that indicates whether or not you are likely to be overloaded. After that point, it is simply a matter of luck and how many unfilled spaces there are in front of you whether or not you will get on. If people have left gaps in front to go to their favourite coffee spots, the line will be longer than it should be and people who are waiting behind the sign may be caused unnecessary anxiety about whether they will get on the ferry.
Inevitably there will be overloads. If you get caught in such a situation, grin and bear it. Drive as far forward in the marshalling lane (remembering to move off any yellow hatch marks) as you can, but not beyond the control lights and park. Go back into the village, get a coffee and relax, or better still, leave your car behind and go as a walk-on passenger. This is after all Bowen Island and the slower lifestyle is, after all, why you moved here!
Chair, Bowen Island Municipality Ferry Advisory Committee