By Laura Barton, Tribune Staff
Thursday, August 10, 2017
Port Robinson ferry service, Bridget-it, operator Trevor Neufeld stands beside the accessibility ramp on the ferry, which goes out onto the newly graded dock. He’s hoping it will encourage more people to use the service. The project began earlier this summer and was completely mid-June; it was partly funded by the St. Lawrence Seaway. Laura Barton/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network
Recent upgrades done to the Port Robinson ferry and its docks mean it is now accessible to people with disabilities.
Manoj Dilwaria, acting chief administrative officer for the City of Thorold, said the project to upgrade the cross-canal ferry service called Bridge-it in Thorold began earlier this year and ended mid-June.
The roughly $136,000 project was funded in part by St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. Rankin Construction completed the work on the docks. Work done, such as installing a ramp to the boat and grading concrete docks, has brought the free ferry service up to code with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act standards.
“We were committed to providing these accessible docks and accessible ferry,” Dilwaria said, adding the city wants everyone to be able to enjoy the service connecting Bridge Street East to Bridge Street West in Thorold.
The ferry can transport up to five adults with five bikes at a time for each three-minute ride across the canal. With the new ramp attached to the boat and the graded incline on the shore, non-motorized wheelchairs are also able to get on board.
The ferry makes 30 to 40 trips a day on weekdays, transporting roughly 60 to 100 people. On weekends, the number of people can be as high as 200.
Operator Trevor Neufeld said the record so far this summer is 236 people in one day and patrons use the ferry to travel from the west to east side of the canal, or vice versa, to go cycling, to go to Port Robinson Park, to a restaurant and ice cream parlour or to the post office and corner store on the east side.
According to thoroldtourism.com, the ferry originally opened in 1974 and has carried cyclists and pedestrians across the canal ever since. Dilwaria said there was a bridge across the canal, but when it was knocked down by a ship, the ferry was put in its place. It was at that time co-funded by the St. Lawrence Seaway and Thorold; Dilwaria said Niagara Region has provided funding for the ferry since last year.
Both Neufeld and Dilwaria said that more people are using the ferry this year.
New signage announcing the accessibility component and proactive promotional work done by a committee made of up residents and both municipal and regional councillors that meet monthly are factors that Dilwaria sees as having contributed to this rise in usage.
Rita Dillon, president of the Niagara Freewheelers Bicycle Touring Club, a group which used the ferry often, said the signs are a great addition. Before the updates, there weren’t any signs saying the ferry is there, so many people didn’t know about it.
She said the ferry is great for people using the Greater Niagara Circle Route because it cuts through the 140-kilometre multi-use trail and gives riders the chance to do a half go around the route if they don’t feel up to the full length of it.
The Freewheelers are having an event for the ferry this Sunday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to celebrate its updates. Dillon said the group will be set up at the foot of Bridge Street West, which is what Port Robinson Road turns into, with cookies and lemonade. They’re also happy to take anyone interested on a mini-tour of the area using the ferry.
She said the ferry is a unique feature of the community that they’d like to see preserved. The only way to do that is to let more people know about it and show how much it is needed, which is what they’re hoping to do with this event.
Overall, Dilwaria said the city is pleased to be able to offer the ferry service.
“The whole intent is to increase the ridership and create a pleasant experience for someone who has come from outside to travel the Niagara region,” he said.
In addition to the enhanced docks and ferry and new signs, the hours have also been extended; until the end of August the service will be available between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. and in September and October the service will run from 9 a.m. until dusk.
When there are unexpected closures, Neufeld said posts are made to the ferry service’s Facebook page, which can be found by searching Port Robinson Ferry Boat Service in Facebook’s search bar.