If anyone like me has a great road trip to Canada recently, some people may not have noticed what I saw when I got to take a look at the two largest ships in BC Ferries' fleet - the Spirit of Vancouver Island and the Spirit of British Columbia. The official name is called "British Columbia Ferry Services", hence the name of BC Ferries. But first, let me start with the basics as I was researching more about the ship...
BC Ferries, according to their website, started out officially in June 1960 when ferry service was needed to connect between Tsawwassen (Vancouver) and Swartz Bay (Victoria), with passenger traffic starting to increase shortly afterwords. More ships started to enter service throughout the next few decades. The biggest ships started service in 1993 when the Spirit of British Columbia was completed, with the second ship, Spirit of Vancouver Island, followed suit one year later. BC Ferries then decided to add more ships to their fleet with the additions of three new ships; one of which was to supplement the most popular route among BC Ferries' routes: Tsawwassen - Swartz Bay.
Ever since I first came to Canada to witness the two largest ships in BC Ferries' fleet, my experience overall was a lot better than my experiences on ship routes between Hong Kong and Macau as I have vomited on some of the ships owned by companies like TurboJET and New World First Ferries. However, BC Ferries can improve on the following that I find, so I posed a few questions that I uncovered of which BC Ferries never mentioned on their website or on a Facebook wall post. Note that this is to the best of my knowledge based on my experience unless answered by BC Ferries.
QUESTION 1: WILL BC FERRIES HAVE A SAME-DAY ROUND TRIP OPTION? WHAT ABOUT SMART CARD AND MOBILE TICKETING?
When I first went on BC Ferries, purchasing a ticket was a breeze, but reducing waste from paper may be in their mind. I wish that they provide a system that can also use smart card capabilities similar to those of Hong Kong's transit system using an Octopus card or the Bay Area's Clipper card system, using the "tag on" and "tag off" method.
If BC Ferries do not wish to use a smart card method, there should be an option for a same-day round-trip between the two destinations of choice. However, nowhere on BC Ferries' website has any information about a same-day round trip between the destinations of choice.
A third possible method for BC Ferries could be to use a mobile ticketing system similar to what the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is planning to use as a result of the upcoming BART extension and Levi's Stadium events, as VTA is developing mobile ticketing for use as a payment option on some of their light rail and bus routes. This option to me would allow BC Ferries to save about 25 cents per paper ticket.
QUESTION 2: WILL BC FERRIES ACCEPT AMERICAN OR FOREIGN CURRENCY?
My answer is not that easy - no American or foreign currency will be accepted at any terminals as cash; only Canadian currency is accepted in those cases, particularly when parking at any of the terminals as there is a fee to park. However, when I explored the ship called Spirit of Vancouver Island, there was an indicator at several vending machines that both Canadian and American currency are accepted. I personally have never tested any vending machines using US dollar bills and coins, so it's not a guarantee that US dollar bills and coins are accepted at those vending machines. In addition, as for the rest of the food and shop outlets, even though vending machines says about accepting both Canadian and American currency, I do assume that Canadian currency is the only method accepted while on any BC Ferries' trips.
There is no direct evidence by my exploration of the Spirit of British Columbia, Spirit of Vancouver Island, and other large ships in BC Ferries' fleet that would suggest accepting both Canadian and American currency (questions about credit/debit cards are found on BC Ferries' website).
QUESTION 3: IS BC FERRIES ANY DIFFERENT IN TERMS OF THE INTERIOR OF THE SHIPS, FEATURES, AND SECURITY?
Not necessarily - take both the Spirit of British Columbia and the Spirit of Vancouver Island for example. While most of the interior has the same features like the food courts, buffets, and a gift shop, some people may notice something differently, especially in where the security cameras may be positioned. For instance, security cameras positioned near the elevators on deck 6 of the Spirit of Vancouver Island may not be seen similarly on the Spirit of British Columbia. In either case, my advice is to be very careful - the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) can prosecute anyone caught on camera for violations including, but not limited to, vandalism, unlawful entry, or trespassing as per Canadian law.
QUESTION 4: WHY IS BC FERRIES NEEDED FOR CROSSINGS BETWEEN TWO ROUTES INSTEAD OF BUILDING A BRIDGE?
The BC Ferries' website reveals that on some of the routes, especially between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, does enter the United States' border for about 5 miles (~9 kilometers). If a bridge was to be built, then the Canadian government would need to ask the United States federal government for permission to build a bridge between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay, which would be highly unlikely, as part of that route (BC Route 17) is owned by the U.S. and not Canada. For other routes, the waters in Canada between the mainland BC and Vancouver Island may be either too deep or it's due to the budget required to build such a bridge such as Trans-Canada (also BC) route 1 on the Nanaimo - Horseshoe Bay ship route.
This is opposed to what transit methods the San Francisco Bay Area uses, as several bridges like the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, the San Mateo Bridge, the Dumbarton Bridge, and the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge connect from one side of the bay to the other, although similar ships like the San Francisco Bay Ferry still exists as an alternate to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system, though with less amenities than what the largest ships on BC Ferries' fleet carries.
If anyone has any inquiries after reading this blog, please feel free to e-mail me or comment below.
Planning/Original Work: Kyle Chak