Bowen students left high and dry by ferry overloads

A number of West Vancouver high school students who live on Bowen Island were left high and dry recently after B.C. Ferries refused to let them walk on to the 7:30 a.m. vessel, telling students it was full.

The situation happened two days in a row this week, as well as on another day earlier in September.

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One morning, about a dozen of the approximately 200 high school students who commute from the island to West Vancouver high schools were left behind.

That meant the students had to wait an hour for the next sailing, missed their bus connection in Horseshoe Bay and missed part of their school day.

Parents of the Bowen students who were left behind were quick to vent their anger at B.C. Ferries.

Gary Fields, father to two 16-year-old boys who attend Rockridge Secondary and missed the ferry this week, says the B.C. Ferries situation causing kids to miss school isn’t acceptable.

Sean Nosek, associate superintendent of the West Vancouver school district, said staff have heard from parents this week concerned about their kids being left behind.

Bowen social media streams also filled with comments from angry parents and concerned community members.

For Bowen Island teenagers, taking the 7:30 a.m. ferry every weekday morning is part of life. There’s no high school on the island, so teens take the 20-minute ferry ride to Horseshoe Bay then transfer to a school bus that heads to Rockridge Secondary.

The issue of leaving students behind was recently caused by larger-than-expected numbers of foot passengers showing up for the morning ferry runs combined with a decision by the ferry corporation to operate with fewer than the maximum number of crew members.

The Queen of Capilano, Bowen’s ferry, can take up to 432 people if it’s got a full staff. However, because Bowen’s passenger numbers are usually lower than that, the ferry frequently operates at a class B licence. This means it has fewer crew and can take a maximum of 392 people.

That’s what happened on Tuesday and Wednesday this week when the students were denied boarding.

In addition to high school students, the early morning ferry also takes regular Bowen commuters who count on the ferry to get to work in North Vancouver, West Vancouver and elsewhere in the Lower Mainland.

This week wasn’t the first time Bowen high school students have been left behind. The same thing happened near the end of the last school year in June.

Deborah Marshall, spokeswoman for B.C. Ferries, said the ferry corporation tries to anticipate passenger levels to decide whether to operate at class A (432-passenger capacity) or class B (392 people).

The regular eight-person crew is “sufficient the vast majority of the time,” said Marshall.

Using two extra people to bolster the regular eight-person crew for four hours and allow more passengers during the morning ferry runs is possible, she said, but costs more money – and could impact fares.

At the beginning of September, the ferry crew was bumped up to ensure students got to school, said Marshall. She said the ferry corporation is now closely monitoring passenger loads. “We’re certainly looking at the situation.”

Nosek said the school district has been in contact with B.C. Ferries this week about the students being left behind.

Nosek said the corporation has now committed that any students who arrive at the ferry on the school bus or before 7:20 a.m. will not be denied boarding.

Nosek said the problem appeared to mainly impact kids who were getting dropped off at the ferry terminal after the cars loaded.

Susanna Braund, chair of Bowen’s Ferry Advisory Committee and a member of the Bowen Island Municipality Transportation Advisory Committee, said she’s pushing for a better solution. She’s asked for either a foot passenger water taxi for the morning commuter run or for the two extra crew to be added back permanently so hitting passenger limits wouldn’t be a problem.

 

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