VICTORIA -- BC Ferries passengers hoping to stay in their cars while aboard a sailing will no longer be allowed to stay in enclosed vehicle decks, starting Wednesday, Sept. 30.

The controversial directive comes from Transport Canada, which initially granted an exception to standard ferry travel regulations to allow passengers to stay in their vehicles to assist with physical distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The federal government is now rescinding that measure due to safety concerns. Normally, passengers are not allowed to stay in enclosed car decks as they are not designed to accommodate passengers and could present safety risks if a fire or other onboard emergency occurred.

Transport Canada and BC Ferries say that new safety measures are in place to assist with limiting the spread of COVID-19, including increased cleaning, mandatory face mask policies and increased seating in some areas, like in Pacific Buffet sections of ferries.

Not everyone agrees with Transport Canada’s decision to rescind passengers’ ability to remain in their vehicles in enclosed car decks, however, especially as daily COVID-19 counts surge in the B.C.

B.C. NDP Leader John Horgan said Tuesday that he attempted to fight back against the policy change but that he was overruled by the federal government.

“I did raise this forcefully with the federal government,” Horgan told reporters Tuesday.

“I spoke with the Finance Minister, I spoke with the Minister of Intergovernmental Relations, and I was assured that they would take every step possible to convince Transport Canada that during a global pandemic, now was not the time to channel people off the car deck onto the main deck of (a BC Ferries vessel),” he said.

“I had agreement from both those ministers but unfortunately Transport Canada disagreed.”

Horgan said that he understands the decision will frustrate many British Columbians but that any regulation changes are now out of his hands.

“I made my case, the federal government, at the end of the day, disagreed with me.”

BC Ferries passengers will no longer be allowed to stay in their cars in enclosed vehicle decks on the following routes:

  • Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay
  • Tsawwassen – Duke Point
  • Horseshoe Bay – Departure Bay
  • Powell River – Comox
  • Tsawwassen – Southern Gulf Islands

Passengers are still allowed to stay in their cars on upper or open car decks.

“BC Ferries must comply with this Transport Canada regulation and the company supports the regulation and its intent,” said the company in a release Tuesday.

“Enclosed car decks are spaces that represent inherent risk to the travelling public.”