Gabriolan says more compassion needed during ‘grey’ time of ferry loading

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, March 22 2016

A Gabriola mom is calling for more compassionate and human consistency from Nanaimo ferry terminal staff after she was kept from being able to board a morning sailing this past week.

Laura Hardy’s daughter Lulu received wisdom teeth surgery on the morning of March 15 and was having a difficult time after regaining consciousness.

Hardy said she knew leaving the oral surgeon’s office that it was going to be close for them to catch the 10:40 a.m. ferry, but with it only being a few blocks, they hurriedly drove down and made it to the terminal booth at 10:35 a.m.

Hardy said the terminal arm blocking vehicle traffic had been lowered, all the vehicles had been loaded onto the Quinsam already, but that the second wave of walk-on passengers were just starting to head down to the ferry.

“My daughter was upset and started to cry again, I told her not to worry, there’s still time, the people are just beginning to walk on. 

“I got out of my vehicle and asked the lady in the ticket booth very politely if she would let us on and I very quickly explained our situation. That my daughter was having a hard time having just had all four wisdom teeth removed and I needed to get her home. 

“She looked at me and stated, “Nope, the gate’s already down.”

“Then I started to plead my case...to which she callously replied, and I quote...‘It’s just her wisdom teeth.’”

Hardy said she heard the ship call the terminal and the booth attendant tell the ship that it was clear to leave.

“She could have easily said yes, I have one more vehicle they are in distress and need to come on. The ferry was not late, nor was it full.” 

Deborah Marshall, Executive Director of Public Affairs for BC Ferries said, “While I can’t speak to the incident that you’ve raised as I don’t have the details, I can tell you about clearance procedures. 

“Both ship and shore have clearance procedures. Three minutes prior to the scheduled sailing time, the master initiates clearance. Crew members onboard, as well as terminal staff, perform certain duties as part of the shore closure procedures that lead up to the departure of the vessel. Once the master has declared the start of the clearance procedures (at the ticket sale cut-off time) no further customers can be added to the manifest. Safety is our number one priority and the ticket sale cut-off and subsequent clearance procedures are a vital part of dispatching our vessels safely and in a timely manner.”

Hardy said it’s not like the ferry didn’t have a little time left to stay in dock, considering it didn’t have to load an entire parking lot of vehicles.

“Had this been a fuller load, with more cars being loaded from the terminal, they would have still been loading the cars when I pulled up. 

“People show up all the time and see those lanes on the left side pulling on, and we get put through to the right side lanes and then load last.

“I saw the second group of walk-on passengers going down the ramp. She could have said ‘one more car’ and let me through, which happens with other people on the Gabriola ferry all the time.”

Hardy said, “If the cut-off, is the cut-off, is the cut-off, then those walk-on passengers shouldn’t even be loaded. That’s the point. Instead, she chose to tell them the terminal was clear, and forced us to wait for the next sailing.

“There was no call for that, no reason for that.”

Hardy says she has spoken with BC Ferries customer service staff, but the impression she came away with was they were asking “what can we do to make this go away.”

What Hardy wants is to see some kind of improvement in the loading policy. “The problem is they relax the rules sometimes, and then they don’t other times. 

“It is a grey area - this little window of time, where they have the power to make a compassionate decision when someone like my daughter comes up with an urgent need or is in obvious distress.

“This is a good example of BC Ferries not recognizing that we are residents, not tourists. The company is messing with our lives. There’s a difference between when a tourist or day trippers show up, the gate is down, no big deal, they go for a walk.

“We live here. This is our home. From time to time an issue like this will come up and there has to be a human element of compassion. There’s been too many instances where students have been left behind.

“I want this policy tweaked - if people are still being loaded, everyone should still get loaded on. I want to move on, past the problem, and find where the solution is.”

Hardy added, “They are sending the message to their staff that the lack of human element is okay. 

“It sends the message they have the right to arbitrarily decide that someone could get on, or that no, they’re not going to let a person on. Because that’s what she did.”