Riding the ferry with honour
Some time ago I came across a story about accessibility problems with Halifax Transit's Christopher Stannix ferry. This ferry is named after an Afghanistan military fallen, a locally based reserve soldier. I have a personal connection to the naming of this ferry, and with Remembrance Day's approach helping to put things in perspective, I would like to address these accessibility issues from a first-hand experience.
I have been a T-11 paraplegic since a military training accident in August 1998, and use both a manual and power wheelchair for my travels. Since the unveiling of the Stannix ferry in May 2014, I have coincidentally travelled more on the harbour ferries than I have in previous years.
On those trips that I have been on the Stannix ferry, I have had very few issues with accessibility with the ferry itself. I was able to move around and park close to the bow windows with my manual chair with ease. I was also able to do the same with my power chair—it was a tight fit due to the size of the chair, but I managed.
One night awhile ago, I spent the early evening travelling on the Halifax waterfront with my manual wheelchair and my freewheel attachment. A freewheel attachment is a piece of equipment with a rotating forward single wheel that I can mount between my feet on the footrest of my manual wheelchair. It raises the front caster of my chair up off the ground, turning my chair into a trike-style chair. It helps me going over rough ground such as grass, rocks and uneven surfaces like that of the waterfront boardwalk.
It does stick out a few feet from the front of my chair, but without it I would have a very interesting experience dealing with rough ground. The total length of my manual chair with the attachment is almost equal to that of a power wheelchair.
My purpose for my trip to the Halifax waterfront was to check out Metro Transit's second new harbour ferry, the Craig Blake, which was tied up at the dock at Alderney Landing. This ferry is also named after Afghanistan military fallen. Craig Blake was a locally based navy diver. (See "Remembering Craig Blake," The City by Allison Saunders, September 2.)
On this day, the Dartmouth III and Woodside I ferries were assigned to the Alderney run. I travelled over to Dartmouth on the Dartmouth III and checked out the Craig Blake, then travelled back to the Halifax side on the Woodside I.
In comparison to the Christopher Stannix, these two older ferries fail the grade when it come to accessibility, but you have to take into account that the Dartmouth III is close to 30 years old, and the Woodside I not far behind. Between the Stannix, the Blake and the introduction of a third, yet-unnamed ferry next year, I do not see accessibility remaining an issue.
The Stannix ferry, in my personal opinion, is the most accessible ferry on the fleet. It is the layout of the seats that is at the root of the accessibility issue with all these ferries. Those with mobility issues who use wheelchairs of all sorts are limited to the lower deck of the ferry, and I do not see that changing without a major design change in the ferry and the terminal in the near future.
But really, in the greater scheme of things, it is only a 10-minute ride across the harbour waters.
My only issue with ferries does not relate to the ferry itself but with the landing or loading/unloading area at the terminals. When I am in my manual chair, with or without my freewheel attachment, I usually have to give a run on to get up over the edge of the sloped walkway from the terminal lower landing. I then have to grab the mounted handrail along the side, and pull myself up the steep ramp to the upper landing.
There are days that is more of a problem than others, mainly due to the height of the tide in the harbour. We are on the east coast and the level of the harbour water does change on a regular basis.
Accessibility is a constant battle for someone in my position and others, and it will continue to be for some time to come. Yet the issue needs to be kept in perspective. The Stannix ferry is named after an Afghanistan military fallen, and for that I will defend the honour of the young man for whom it was named.—Darrel MacDonald, Halifax