New rules slash Kwuna capacity

  • Jan. 5, 2009 3:00 p.m.

New regulations have drastically reduced the number of passengers allowed on the Kwuna – from 150 passengers to 36 – causing concern that passengers will be left behind on busy sailings. Transport Canada’s minimum safe manning regulations came into effect on Jan. 1, 2009. BC Ferries received documents outlining the minimum staffing levels for safety on all of its vessels. A temporary reprieve has ensured that 80 passengers will be allowed to ride the Kwuna during the peak airport runs (between 1 pm and 6 pm) for the next two months, but the final word from Transport Canada has yet to come, says Queen Charlotte Mayor Carol Kulesha. “With the big ferry not running, busloads will be heading over to catch the Hawk Air flight,” she said. “That alone could be more than 36 people, never mind the rest of us taking the other flight.” She said BC Ferries was still in conversation with Transport Canada and still figuring out how it will be able to comply with the new regulations. For the Kwuna to maintain its current staffing level of four crew members per sailing, the number of vehicles and passengers must be reduced, according to the regulation. BC Ferries spokesperson Deborah Marshall said Transport Canada has been issuing safety certificates for several years allowing the Kwuna to carry up to 150 passengers and 26 vehicles, and the new regulations have turned all this around. She says of the 8,400 sailings the Kwuna makes in a year, 99 per cent carry less than 70 passengers. The Kwuna carries 15 or less cars 92 per cent of the time and more than 20 cars only 2.2 per cent of the time. Twelve or 16 times a year, she says, the Kwuna carries more than 70 people. But according to the new regulation, to be able to carry these extra bodies, BC Ferries would have to have one more staff member aboard the vessel, which would cost $200,000 more a year. “Our concern is what that would do to fares,” she said. She said when the regulation first came to light, BC Ferries was also very concerned about what this would do to the twice-weekly flights scheduled between the islands and Prince Rupert during January when the big ferry is not running. She said Transport Canada has now made an exception to allow 80 passengers during this period and the regulatory body is still in discussion with BC Ferries. “We want to see a permanent solution,” she said. Ms Kulesha is also concerned about the regulation’s impact on the airplane sailings, and not only while the BC Ferries flights are running, but year round. “Some vehicles could be very well be left behind during busy sailings,” she said. She wants to know why Transport Canada has changed these regulations and if it is for safety reasons, how is the current operating regime unsafe. Transport Canada could not be reached for comment by the Observer’s deadline.