AS IT TURNED OUT, my brilliant idea for a roadside kiosk by the ferry terminal — Wacky Jack’s Last Chance Masks — wasn’t as lucrative as I hoped.
I had dreamed of getting rich off travellers who didn’t know Monday was the first day of a new rule that says B.C. Ferries passengers must bring face coverings.
“We take them wherever we go,” said Curtis Bear, waiting in the terminal parking lot for the one o’clock boat to Tsawwassen. Bear and Rhonda Fox (“two animals,” he noted) were on their way back to Saskatchewan, where a six-week lockdown on the Little Pine Reserve got them in the habit of masking up.
Likewise, Rob Huntley, who described himself as a dual citizen of Salt Spring and Vancouver, always has a mask on his dashboard. “Mostly it’s because of my wife’s consciousness,” he said. She’s a nurse at St. Paul’s. Protection from infectious diseases is always a priority.
By mid-day, no one had missed their sailing because of the new Transport Canada-inspired rule. One woman turned around at the ticket booth and dashed back to her office to fetch a mask. A couple of other travellers benefited from first-day leniency; although B.C. Ferries has said it won’t supply masks to those who arrive without them, spares were found on this occasion. (Don’t expect that to continue, though; a corporation losing $1 million a day isn’t about to hand out free masks to 20 million passengers a year.)
The new requirement says anyone over age two is supposed to have a face covering. You don’t have to actually wear it unless you can’t maintain a two-metre separation from other passengers. Really, B.C. Ferries would rather you just stay in your car.
Pull up to the booth and you’ll see a posted list of COVID-related questions (“Do you have a fever and a cough? Breathing difficulty?”), any one of which could disqualify you from travel. If your sailing is longer than 30 minutes, the ticket agent will ask if you have a mask (though they won’t ask to see it).
Passengers interviewed at the terminal Monday had no problem with any of that. “Protecting other people from what I might be carrying is very important right now,” is the way Vancouver-bound Szilvia Korda put it.
Will that willingness to obey the rules persist? An Angus Reid Institute survey released Monday showed Canadians’ commitment to physical-distancing is waning. “Just 36 per cent of Canadians now say they are staying away from public spaces as much as they were in the early days of the outbreak, while 56 per cent are continuing to keep extra space from others as much as they were earlier this spring,” it said.
The number worried about catching COVID-19 has fallen from 73 per cent in early April to 46. It might be even lower on Vancouver Island, where the last positive test was over a month ago.
As COVID fatigue sets in, the ferries are starting to get busier. According to a loudspeaker announcement, Sunday’s 5 p.m. sailing to Tsawwassen was the busiest since the pandemic began.
With so many chairs blocked off in the name of physical distancing, some passengers reported having a hard time finding somewhere to sit. On Monday, there wasn’t enough room for all the vehicles trying to make it on some Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen sailings (though even with passenger capacity halved by Transport Canada, there was still plenty of room for people).
All in all, Monday’s transition seemed to go smoothly, though, which is a relief given what ticket agents sometime endure. Most people are great, but others can’t see the futility/butt-headedness of unloading on frontline workers. (Monday was the 60th anniversary of the Tsawwassen-Swart Bay run; no truth to the rumour that the first sailing was marred by some purple-faced bozo pausing at the booth to moan about the lousy wi-fi.) Note that extra security was added at Swartz Bay on Monday, just in case.
Fortunately, it wasn’t needed. Other than those sitting on a roadside kiosk of unsold masks, everyone was being calm, kind and safe.