...to the website of the James McGregor Stewart Society. We want to change the outlook for people with disabilities. Please share this site with friends. Your contributions, comments and criticisms will add enthusiasm and vitality. Please participate by subscribing!

Enter your email address:

Statement of Purpose......... Take Action!......... Become a Member......... Contact

September 10, 2015

Harbour Hopper

On June 24, my friend Claredon Robichau sent me an email about Murphy's Sailing Tours' application for two additional Harbour Hoppers licences, adding "Bet you none will be wheelchair accessible."

A little research convinced me that the Boston Duck Tours are more or less the same idea, and all are wheelchair accessible.

So I objected:



Dear Board Members,

I object to the granting of this application and request that you give consideration to requiring Harbour Hopper Amphibious Vehicles to be wheelchair accessible. Among the reasons are:

1. Taxpayers in Halifax have gone to considerable expense to make the waterfront and its attractions wheelchair accessible. Through their Crown Corporation, Waterfront Development, Nova Scotians hope to to foster the creation of waterfronts that drive economic opportunity and enhance tourism. A signature attraction like Harbour Hopper vehicles should conform to accessibility standards relating to those goals.

2. Taxpayers provide services and infrastructure used routinely by Harbour Hoppers, including streets, police, fire prevention, ambulances and traffic control. Taxpayers unable to climb steep stairs receive little in return for their generous support.

3. There is a school group rate. Any school group with a wheelchair user could not make use of the Harbour Hopper. This is not a message for children.

3. Shouldn't the Motor Carrier Act and regulations be implemented in a manner consistent with the principles of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
4. Boston Duck Tours, undoubtedly the inspiration for Harbour Hopper tours, offers wheelchair accessible vehicles:
Are the Ducks wheelchair accessible? 
Absolutely! Each Duck in our fleet is equipped to have up to two wheelchairs strapped onto the back deck. Wheelchairs are boarded first along with one guest in your party. Other guests in your party will board in the order in which they arrived and where they are in the line. Guests also have the option of transferring into one of our seats. We will gladly set up the wheelchair lift to assist those guests who are not in a wheelchair, but are unable to climb stairs. Please notify a Guest Service Representative when purchasing tickets if you need these services, or if you purchased your tickets via the Internet, please call our offices at 617) 450-0068.
If you require a different form or format for objections, I am happy to comply. Please let me know if I can provide further information.

Yours truly,

Warren Reed

Unbeknownst to me, Murphy's had been acquired by Ambassatours, and I soon heard from Dennis Campbell, who had served alongside me on the Minister's Panel on Accessibility Legislation last summer:

Hi Gus,

I hope you are having a nice start to summer. I see that you have opposed our application for 2 additional Harbour Hoppers with the NSUARB. I am wondering if you might be able to make some time to meet with me over a coffee or if not that then a chat on the phone.

While I understand your concern and I too intend on doing our part to transition our fleet to become more accessible, we are challenged on how to make this work with the Harbour Hoppers and I wonder if we can chat about it if we can find a solution that may satisfy you while allowing us to invest and transition toward more accessibility in a smart business and prudent business manner.

Please let me know if you might be able to meet at a time and location of your convenience next week. If you could make the time, I'd be delighted to invite you down to Murphy's Restaurant (which is accessible) for lunch or coffee.



And I replied:

Hi Dennis,

Thanks for this offer. Ambassatours' involvement came as quite a surprise to me. The issue isn't really mine, but the community's. Your fellow tour operators in Boston seem quite able to provide accessible craft. Here is a picture of the lift they use (in a different application):

And a link to the manufacturer.

The testimonial from Duck Tours CEO Andrew Wilson on that page is telling:

"The lift has been used 800 times in two years, and has operated remarkably well. ... we have been really pleased with how easy it is to move around. The speed with which you provided a customized version was nothing short of amazing."

Wilson sort of reminds me of you - a forward-looking guy with more than usual commitment to the community. Here's a nice clip of him explaining his business model. He's been the subject of a Harvard Business Review article.

All those cash-heavy seniors with walkers, new hips and wheelchairs, are delivered to the Halifax waterfront by cruise ships which have been made accessible courtesy of the US Supreme Court. Spector v. Norwegian Cruise Lines held that the Americans with Disabilities Act applied to foreign-flag ships docking in US ports.

For your business plan, I'd give lots of weight to the changing demographics of Nova Scotia and the profile of cruise ship passengers. And the chance to make a difference.

So thanks for reaching out, but I think accessibility will best be served by letting the process take its course.


We had the coffee.  As you can tell, I had some concerns about speaking on behalf of a whole community, and I thought I might be able to get the UARB to set a precedent.  But really, I just want to take a Harbour Hopper tour, so over the course of the summer we reached an agreement. I wanted two spots, but settled for one. I wanted no tie-downs, but Cher Smith convinced me it was about passenger safety and not about my independence:  Here's the final:

The Applicant undertakes to implement the following upgrades and modifications to its two (2) newly acquired Harbour Hopper Amphibious Vehicles prior to the Motor Carrier License P02758 being amended: 

1. Ensure sufficient space for at least one wheelchair on each vehicle, which may be used for other purposes should no wheelchair be onboard, and provide one companion seat reserved for the wheelchair space; 
2. Ensure the installation of a purpose-built lift device to facilitate boarding and capable of lifting a wheelchair/occupant combination of up to 600 pounds and approved by relevant authorities; 
3. Ensure sufficient boarding, seating, and alighting areas to permit sufficient turning and maneuvering space for one wheelchair to reach a designated securement area from the lift location; 
4. Ensure the installation of a securement system for wheelchairs to facilitate users who cannot transfer to vehicle seating as follows; 
a. Wheelchair to be secured by an easily operated and approved system,
b. One tour staff member per trip to be designated to operate securement system,
c. Formal training to be provided for all tour staff members, and
d. All wheelchair passengers to be treated equally to all other passengers in all respects 
5. Tour staff shall be permitted to store all mobility aids such as walkers and canes in a designated secondary location, when requested; 
6. Wheelchair passengers shall not be required to sign a separate waiver from other passengers; 
7. The onboard positioning of the designated location to be substantially similar to standard passenger locations available to the general public; 
8. There shall be no additional charges and fare categories shall be standard; 
9. Priority boarding opportunities shall be provided as required; and 
10. Passengers can be accommodated and directed to nearby accessible washroom facilities. 

The Applicant further undertakes to liaise with all necessary transportation authorities, both Marine and Land based, and all other required agencies responsible to acquire the necessary approvals for the installation and operation of all key components, such as lifts, securement, and safety devices required to render the vehicles/vessels fully wheelchair accessible. 

Should any issues arise that would impede or unnecessarily delay the implementation of these components, the Applicant undertakes to bring the matter before the Board for direction/resolution, prior to the vehicles being brought into service.

Dennis is a remarkable fellow.  Straightforward, as good as his word and concerned to do the right thing. At the same time, he is a good businessman, a tough negotiator who will not lose by this arrangement. He can read the tea leaves and sees the advantage in being able to offer his tour to the many elderly and disabled visitors to Halifax.  While others grouse about the cost of accessibility, Dennis will be laughing all the way to the bank.

In a word, Dennis is smart and capable of holding two thoughts in his brain at the same time.  Tourism is not monolithic, nor  is education, real estate or retail.  Despite the dire predictions in this Turner-Drake newsletter, there's plenty of opportunity to make money on accessible homes - people want to age in place, and as one market segment goes down, another rises.  Dalhousie could increase enrollment.  Retail can find employees (and customers).  My advice to business?  Be more like Dennis Campbell.

Kevin Murphy will be the first passenger on the newly accessible Harbour Hoppers.  My treat!

1 comment:

Stew said...

Congratulations Gus! I follow your blog regularly and it's great to see success stories!