OWEN SOUND – The Chi-Cheemaun ferry concluded its 2020 season on October 17 and saw strong fall traffic numbers that helped to keep this year’s service usage figures at just over half of last year’s, despite operating for 31 fewer days and only running trips at half capacity.
“We were pleasantly surprised at how traffic gradually built in the summer, depending on what stage of reopening the province was at,” said Susan Schrempf, president and CEO of Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC).
Transport Canada regulations this year required ferry operators to carry no more than 50 percent of their certified passenger capacity. That half-full number for the Chi-Cheemaun is about 300 passengers.
“We had to completely shut down our food and beverage service, which was difficult because we like to provide that service to our customers, particularly since a lot of them are travelling a long distance,” said Ms. Schrempf.
The dynamic nature of the COVID-19 pandemic meant Ms. Schrempf was unable to offer any predictions about how the 2021 sailing season will unfold, though safety measures will likely carry forward into 2021.
This year, the ferry did not run at all in May and its last sailing date got cancelled entirely.
“Nobody knows how long the temporary measures will be in place, but we need to make sure the population is protected,” said Ms. Schrempf.
Vehicle counts for 2020 are down 43.03 percent from 2019 levels but were only down 3,144 in September and October combined, or 17 percent compared to last year.
The Chi-Cheemaun ran 714 sailings this year, compared to 1,036 in 2019.
Passenger counts were down slightly sharper than vehicle numbers. Some 103,698 people took the ferry as opposed to 202,020 in 2019, a 48.67 percent drop from last year.
On-board policies included direction-of-travel markings, roped-off seating areas to increase the space between passengers, extensive sanitization protocols such as crews disinfecting the chair as soon as a passenger left their seat, closures of some indoor spaces and a designated zone for anyone with a medical exemption against wearing a mask.
All walk-on passengers had to board through the vehicle ramp, rather than the passenger bridge.
In the last 16 years of ferry operations, 2013 was previously the lowest-used year before 2020.
Comparing stats, 2013 saw 20,307 more vehicles than 2020 (making this year lower than 2013 by 30.6 percent). Passenger levels in those two years saw 2020 having 62,526 fewer riders, or 37.6 percent fewer.
“As things rapidly evolved between March 13 and now, I could never have imagined on March 13 that we’d be where we are today,” said Ms. Schrempf.
In the off-season the Chi-Cheemaun will undergo more interior renovation work such as wall paneling replacements and work on the crew quarters. Next fall, the ship will head in for dry-docking.
Because of the reduced service this year, anyone with a Chi-Cheemaun loyalty card will be able to use it in 2021. These cards, available by request, are normally only good for travel within the same calendar year.