“Too rigid”: BC Ferries passengers want revamp over too-early reservation frustrations

Several BC Ferries passengers are sharing their annoyance over the current reservation system and how it impacts those who show up too early for their sailing, including, in some cases, being sent on a confusing, time-killing journey.

Currently, if you have a reservation, you are limited to arriving one hour before that sailing and no later than 30 minutes before. If you arrive too late, you’ll miss the boat and lose your non-refundable reservation fee, which is $20 for most of the major routes.

However, many are coming forward to explain their confusion and frustrations when they show up too early, as they’ve been forced to leave and come back.

Pamela Runkle and her husband were among those who faced this inconvenience and believed the current time requirement was “just too rigid.”

Horseshoe Bay


They were hoping to head home from Vancouver to Qualicum Beach last week after a medical appointment on the mainland. They had a reservation for a Thursday evening sailing ahead of the long weekend from Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo, and they tried to time their arrival perfectly through downtown Vancouver at rush hour.

“We left Kits at 4:45… I guess we allowed too much time. We didn’t know what we were going to be dealing with as far as getting down Georgia Street and onto the Lions Gate Bridge, and out to the ferry terminal. Just because oftentimes that traffic on that bridge gets so backed up at rush hour,” Runkle said about their haste to arrive.

stanley park

EB Adventure Photography/Shutterstock

“For the 7:30 ferry, the earliest you should be there would be 6:30. I think we arrived about six o’clock,” she told Daily Hive.

She said one of the workers directing traffic ahead of the ticket booths asked her what sailing she was booked for, and when they answered, they were told to leave the lineup.

“All he said was, ‘You need to drive down to the Village.’ Now, if he would have said that to a tourist, they would have no idea what he meant,” she explained, adding that they asked for more information and were told they’d have to actually get back on the highway and turn around.

“Telling you to drive down to the Village is not very helpful.”

Runkle explained that they learned they needed to drive 5 km up the highway to the Caulfield exit to turn around, saying it was confusing.

Horseshoe Bay Highway

Google Maps

“We went and sat in the Caulfield Mall parking lot because we didn’t know where to go. We didn’t want to get too far away and be late coming back. So we went up and sat in the Caulfield parking lot for about half an hour.”

“We got back at 6:30 pm, and oh my God, the traffic was just like back up the highway. I thought it was actually dangerous because there were people driving and people stopping people flying by going up to Whistler.

That 30 minutes made a major difference in terms of the pre-ferry rush, and the Runkles were left at the end of the line with a ticking clock.

“We ended up in stop-and-go traffic for about 45 minutes before we finally got down to the booth. So we had gotten there about, I guess, about 630. We’re in stop and go down to the booth. I think we got in about 7:20 pm. Keep in mind the ferry is supposed to be leaving at 7:30 pm,” she said.

They weren’t the only people frustrated, and she says they saw a lot of workers bearing the brunt of the frustrations.

“I don’t swear very much, but it was a sh*t show, it really was.”

She added that the ferry itself was late and thankfully they still honoured their reservation.

bc ferries delay

BC Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay Terminal in West Vancouver (Shutterstock)

“I know it must be an organizational nightmare for them… But I don’t know, they somehow have got to be more flexible. They kind of conned us into, you know, having to make reservations. I mean, in the old days, 10-20 years ago, you didn’t make a reservation. You just got on, and I guess it’s their way of dealing with heavy traffic. But if we’re going to have to pay the extra [money] I think we should be a little less rigid, maybe a bit more flexible. You know?”

One of Runkle’s suggestions is a flyer to hand to people on how to turn around and get back into the line with a map.

“It really annoyed me that they would say ‘drive down to the Village,’ that’s just stupid.”

West Vancouver

David Buzzard/Shutterstock

Another suggestion was to have a spot close by where folks could wait for the time to get in line if they somehow can’t be allowed early entry because of other sailings.

Many on social media have a completely different idea of how to handle that messaging from BC Ferries workers who say to leave: just stay put.

Sunshine Coast Ferry Complaints


“This has happened to us several times. The last time it happened, we refused to move and said it’s a waste of gas and that we have arrived in the timeframe required for our reservation. The flag guy didn’t know what to do, so he just waved us through because we weren’t budging,” a commenter on the Sunshine Coast BC Ferry Complaint’s Facebook group reads in part.

“That happened to me a few years ago. I tried to refuse to go around, arguing if they let people in before I get back I could miss the ferry. And yes! That’s exactly what happened. I missed the ferry by about 10 cars! 😖 😡” another person said.

However, the general concern seems to be a lack of space for vehicles at this terminal.

“This is a first. Was turned away from even lining up in horseshoe bay. Was told to come back in 40 minutes just to be able to get in line!” another person said in the group.

Some, however, weren’t as sympathetic.

“I’ve heard and seen this before. Welcome to the summer [sh*t] show!”

bc ferries queen of surrey c class horseshoe bay terminal

Queen of Surrey, a C-class vessel, at BC Ferries’ Horseshoe Bay terminal (Shutterstock)

BC Ferries says it is aware that some customers were told to leave and return due to high traffic volumes at the Horseshoe Bay Terminal.

“We understand that this could be a frustrating experience for our customers,” Reet Sidhu with BC Ferries said, adding that it’s important to arrive within a specific time frame for a reason.

But Sidhu explained that “it can be challenging for terminals when customers show up with their booking earlier than the check-in time due to limited staging space at our terminals. If they can be accommodated, they will be.”

Sidhu added that there are highway signs informing passengers on how to leave and come back, and “staff would provide exiting and re-connecting instructions, as needed.”

BC Ferries said here’s how to do it:
1. Exit the terminal. Take Exit #4, the Caulfield exit.
2. Loop over the overpass.
3. Proceed west on Highway 1.
4. Take Exit #3 for both vehicle-bound traffic and foot passenger drop-off.
5. Allow approximately 20 minutes to complete the turnaround.

Sidhu said the capacity for vehicles and issues such as these are being discussed in the ongoing Horseshoe Bay Expansion project.

What do you think? Does the early bird get the worm, or is it fair to reroute too-early reservation passengers away? Let us know in the comments.