Knowledgeable coders find a way to find coveted British Columbia campsites
Making reservations on the BC Parks website can be a headache, but those with a little coding knowledge seem to find a way around it.
According to comments on a Reddit thread, some savvy people have figured out how to write a coding script that fully automates the reservation process and allows them to quickly reserve seats they want as soon as they become available.
Coders inclined to camping use a program called Selenium, a plugin that automates web browsers.
An assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia says Selenium allows you to write a script so that you only have to fill out a web page form once.
“Entering text in a text field or checking boxes or filling out a web form – you do it manually and Selenium is a tool that you can actually record actions of, maybe once when you use a page and then you can just redo these things automatically, ”Aastha Mehta explained.
She says the program wouldn’t even require a user to constantly monitor the site for openings.
“You could just have the script running on your computer all day long,” she explained. “And it can continue to periodically make a request to the system, asking it to retrieve the latest available information on the availability of reservation slots.”
Mehta says that using the program is fairly straightforward for anyone with experience in web development or coding. She assumes that computer science students in the last two years of an undergraduate program would likely be able to write similar programs to automate BC Parks bookings.
According to the Reddit post, one user was able to write a coding script in about five hours. Mehta says the script could then be shared with other people who could use it for the same purpose.
BC Parks investigates
In an emailed statement, BC Parks said it has put tests in place to avoid this type of workaround and is investigating the Reddit claims.
“BC Parks has been assured that these tests and prevention mechanisms are in place and working effectively when logging in and paying within the Discover Camping service,” the statement said.
The BC Parks website has caused frustration among users in the recent past when thousands of people logged in simultaneously and crashed the site.
Last year was the busiest in recent memory, with over 50,000 people trying to book all at once on opening day.
This year, campers can only book two months before their arrival date, which means, for example, that bookings for the August long weekend are only available at the beginning of June.
Campsite reservations are also non-transferable to prevent individuals from buying multiple reservations and then reselling them at a mark-up.
Rohit Grover, who lives in New Westminster, is no coding expert, but says he was able to book the coveted August long weekend reservations for Elfin Lakes in Garibaldi Provincial Park simply by logging in early and entering all of their information before 7 a.m.
“I think if someone is able to do what I’ve done and is diligent with it… the system will work,” he said.
But Grover thinks that for those with an advantage, it’s a fair game.
“If someone is able to use their knowledge and do it for their own good, I guess that’s okay as long as I can get my things back.”