Keep­ing or­der all in a day’s work at B.C. Fer­ries

Times Colonist - - Front Page - JACK KNOX jknox@times­

Isaw them catch a queue-jumper at the Tsawwassen ferry ter­mi­nal last week. The driver had tried sneak­ing out of a go­ing-nowhere lane and into one that was board­ing. For­tu­nately, be­fore he got too far, a cou­ple of B.C. Fer­ries work­ers wrenched open his door, dragged him squeal­ing onto the pave­ment, lit him up with a Taser and threw his keys into the saltchuck.

Well, no, what they did was hold him in place, steam pour­ing out of his ears (or per­haps his ra­di­a­tor) as the rest of us squeezed into the last few spa­ces on the Coastal Per­spi­ra­tion. I’m not sure what hap­pened af­ter that, though I like to think the car was towed to the back of the lot and set on fire while the driver was tran­quil­lized, ear-tagged and re­lo­cated to a Wal­mart park­ing lot in Sur­rey.

For this, dear reader, is the truth: No­body likes a budger.

This is par­tic­u­larly true at the ter­mi­nals, where the whole process — up to 400 ve­hi­cles and 2,100 peo­ple pour­ing off a ferry, then a sim­i­lar num­ber pour­ing on, all within 25 min­utes — de­pends on or­der.

Keep­ing that or­der de­pends on ferry users play­ing by the rules, which, in turn, de­pends on faith. Faith that ve­hi­cles will be loaded fairly. Faith that ev­ery­body will wait their turn. Faith that if they don’t, some­body will stop them.

Hap­pily, that faith is re­warded. In­deed, if the jus­tice sys­tem op­er­ated like B.C. Fer­ries, we wouldn’t have to lock our doors at night. It is com­fort­ing to know that in a world in which court de­lays al­low drug deal­ers to walk free, phone scam­mers prey on the el­derly with im­punity and lamentably few of us still bother to call 911 to re­port abuse of the Nine Items or Less rule at the check-out, high in the clouds above the ferry ter­mi­nal, an all-see­ing god sits ready to wield the sword of jus­tice with swift, un­blink­ing cer­tainty should any­one at­tempt to butt in line. That god’s name is Ed. At least, it was this week, when Ed Gravonic was one of two B.C. Fer­ries em­ploy­ees work­ing the tower at the Swartz Bay ter­mi­nal. I went there with Cam­rin Hil­lis, the B.C. Fer­ries re­gional man­ager, to see how they go about keep­ing or­der at the ter­mi­nals.

Here’s what I learned: First, the tower en­joys a view high-priced ex­ec­u­tives would kill for, but the fo­cus is on the park­ing lot. Split-screen tele­vi­sion mon­i­tors of­fer more views, video im­ages cap­tured by the 100-plus sur­veil­lance cam­eras dot­ted around the ter­mi­nal. (“I’ve seen peo­ple walk chick­ens on a leash around the dog park,” Gravonic says.) Com­puter screens track which ve­hi­cles are in which lane, and which ones are sup­posed to be sent on board first.

Here’s how they load ve­hi­cles: Those with reser­va­tions get pri­or­ity, but must be there at least 30 min­utes be­fore sail­ing. Don’t worry that the guy with Saskatchewan plates in front of you is tak­ing for­ever to buy his ticket, ap­pears to be ask­ing di­rec­tions or try­ing to or­der a Big Mac or some­thing. As long as you’re in the ticket booth lineup be­fore that 30-minute cut-off, the agent will let you through.

Then there are the peo­ple with as­sured-load­ing tick­ets. The tick­ets cost a lot — $1,550 for a book of 10 — but they can be used like in­stant reser­va­tions (or a Dis­ney­land Fast­pass) as long as the user shows up at least 20 min­utes be­fore de­par­ture time.

Af­ter that there’s the great herd of us, the stand­bys. “All the standby traf­fic is boarded in the or­der they ar­rived,” Hil­lis says. It doesn’t mat­ter whether you are lined up with the over­height ve­hi­cles or are over with the un­der­heights, if the sail­ing is full, the last spot should go to who­ever bought their ticket first.

This can be de­ter­mined with the help of a dig­i­tal time stamp: Ev­ery sin­gle car in line is mon­i­tored. One click of the mouse and the tower op­er­a­tor can tell how many oc­cu­pants are sup­posed to be in it and when they paid for their ticket.

Gravonic also jots down a de­scrip­tion of the last ve­hi­cle in each line, which is a good way to spot queue-jumpers. If the black pickup that should be last is fol­lowed by an­other car, chances are the lat­ter is butting in.

Lane-jump­ing oc­curs fairly of­ten dur­ing busy pe­ri­ods. “If it doesn’t hap­pen one sail­ing, it will hap­pen the next,” Gravonic says.

Be warned, though. If caught butting in, you will be pun­ished, pre­vented from board­ing un­til oth­ers have gone. Some­times that means hold­ing you in place while oth­ers load, but if there’s enough time, you’ll be Snakes and Lad­dered to the back of the line to wait there.

Some­times Gravonic or some­one like him will boom it out from the pub­lic ad­dress sys­tem: “You in the red van in lane 11, go to the end of lane 15.” Then the van will do the Drive of Shame as other ferry users whistle, clap and of­fer one-fin­gered en­cour­age­ment. To re­peat: No­body likes a budger.

Sea­soned travellers are the least likely to lane-jump. Gulf Is­landers in par­tic­u­lar know bet­ter than to try it; even if they es­cape the scru­tiny of B.C. Fer­ries staff, they risk be­ing seen and os­tra­cized by their neigh­bours.

The irony is that there of­ten is no need to try to el­bow to the front. “We say ‘Why didn’t you stay there? You would have made it,’ ” Gravonic says.

Some budgers pro­fess ig­norance when stopped. Some feel shame. Some blus­ter: “Where does it say on the ticket that I’m not al­lowed to lane-jump,” a man once de­manded of Gravonic.

Get­ting mad at B.C. Fer­ries staff won’t help your cause, though. “Abusive be­hav­iour is not ac­cept­able,” Hil­lis says. Per­sist and you might be de­nied pas­sage al­to­gether.

Lane-jumpers aren’t the only ones who have to worry. So do those sports teams that de­cide to party in the park­ing lot while wait­ing for the ferry. Gravonic saw that hap­pen early last Mon­day af­ter­noon: “Down came the tail­gate and out came the beers.” That’s when the ter­mi­nal man­ager will in­ter­vene, per­haps even call­ing the cops to test the so­bri­ety of the driver.

There are also those who pull onto the shoul­der of the high­way to hide pas­sen­gers be­fore they reach the ticket booth, just like the old days at the drive-in movies. Alas for them, those in other ve­hi­cles will of­ten rat them out to the ticket agent. Ferry users have a low tol­er­ance for rule-break­ers.


B.C. Fer­ries’ Swartz Bay ter­mi­nal.


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