Guest column: Hold the boat, please!

Accessibility for walk-ons on BC Ferries not up to snuff

A Cowichan Valley woman is calling for better accessibility to ferries for walk-on passengers with light mobility challenges. (Citizen file)

A Cowichan Valley woman is calling for better accessibility to ferries for walk-on passengers with light mobility challenges. (Citizen file)

By Holly Warren

My breath was ragged, I was gasping for air as I struggled up the steep incline, red faced and perspiring. I had shed my heaviest belongings before attempting the climb but still I was laboring as those younger and fitter passed me by with barely a second look. “Don’t get behind her,” I heard one of them mutter to their companion as they came up to pass me, “she’ll just slow you down.”

Where was I? What hill, what mountain, what trail was I on that pushed me to my limit? This would be the ramp for walk-on passengers at the Tsawwassen BC Ferries Terminal. After the first mile on the 45 degree incline ramp (perhaps an exaggeration, I was going by in situ perception at this point) my arthritic knees were aching, my asthmatic lungs were burning and my resolve to stay safe and wear a mask lay in tatters from my bright red ears.

After hobbling on board and plopping down in the first seat that presented itself, I caught my breath and took stock of my situation. I knew I had an equal amount of unending ramp at the other end of my journey, between myself and the safety of home; I was not sure I could make it.

It was at that point I decided to follow up with some research, provided I made it from the boat into the Duke Point terminal and the comforting bosom of my family. I vowed to look into what BC Ferries offered to those needing some assistance when walking on a ferry. Did they offer any services for people who were mostly mobile and who did not use a wheelchair but could certainly benefit from a ride on golf cart, a horse and wagon or a strong backed mule? What I found was both interesting and disappointing.

I first checked the website, Under Travel & Boarding I found Foot Passengers. “Aha,” I thought, “this should answer my questions.” But alas this was not the case. There was lots of necessary info on how to be a good and successful foot passenger; but it did not address my particular issue. There was, however, a link to their Accessibility Page, so I clicked on it ( This page is geared to accessibility for ferry passengers with disabilities. Lots of good info here too, but not really much information about foot passengers with minor mobility issues. Made me wonder if I was the only one, but experience has taught me that if it affects me then it affects others too, so I persevered. I came across a sentence under “Accessibility at our larger terminals” that mentioned wheelchairs to borrow for boarding (check availability when boarding online). Did this mean foot passengers?

This warranted a phone call, so I called the BC Ferries Customer Service line, 1-888-223-3779 where I spoke to the lovely Faith who endeavoured to answer my questions. Yes, wheelchairs are available for walk-on ferry passengers. Apparently there are three wheelchairs at each terminal, you need to reserve one when you make your advance reservation (which I would not normally do for walk-on and which means the wheelchair would actually cost me between $10-$17).

In order to be wheeled up the ramp from hell they will actually take a member from the crew (removing them from service in this era of staff shortages) to perform this task. This just seems ludicrous to me, I come from a community of seniors on an Island known as a retirement destination. Surely they can come up with a better solution than this. Car and driver ferry fares, combined with rising gas prices, make the choice to walk on a preferred option. Many seniors would appreciate a viable solution to help them get on board safely. Larger airports offer golf cart shuttles, why can’t BC Ferries offer something similar? Taking one employee to shuttle four or five people instead of one-on-one makes more sense and the ramps are certainly wide enough to accommodate this mode of transportation.

This particular saga has ended. If I have to do it again I am seriously contemplating having my husband drive on, drop me on the other side and turn around and come back. My brother would pick me up on the other side as usual. I’ll add the cost of the ferry onto the cost of my trip budget. With a little out-of-the-box thinking by BC Ferries customer service, this is not how it has to be.


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