P.E.I.-N.S. ferry service set to start May 1 — with some big changes
Northumberland Ferries says to expect extra screening and no food service
The ferry service between P.E.I. and Nova Scotia is set to begin May 1, however travellers can expect big changes from what they're used to.
New measures will include pre-screening passengers for signs of the coronavirus, and reducing the number of vehicles allowed on each ferry crossing, to allow for social distancing.
Pre-screening measures include asking passengers if they have a fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. If the passenger answers yes to any of the questions, or refuses to answer, they will be turned away.
In addition, passengers will have the option of staying in their vehicles and the restaurant and gift shops will be closed, said Don Cormier, vice-president operations and safety management for Northumberland Ferries Ltd., in an email to CBC.
"The requirement is to maintain social distancing on passenger decks. So we intend restricting capacity on passenger decks to enable compliance," said Cormier.
"If we sell out of that capacity, other customers would have the option of purchasing tickets which would restrict them to the vehicle deck."
There will be also be extra cleaning and disinfection on the ferries, and there may be additional safety measures brought in before the crossings start.
The seasonal service usually runs from Wood Islands, P.E.I., to Caribou, N.S., between May and December and is especially popular for tourists travelling between the provinces, and truckers based in the eastern part of P.E.I. heading to Nova Scotia.
This year, however, traffic will be limited, at least for the start of the season.
On April 1 the provincial government set up checkpoints at the Confederation Bridge to turn away non-essential travellers, allowing only Islanders returning home, essential workers, and those visiting under compassionate grounds to come to the Island until the pandemic crisis is over.
The new procedures are being developed because of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the crossings are safe for passengers and crew, said Cormier, and are in line with new regulations announced April 5 by Transport Canada.
Transport Canada now requires all ferries to reduce the maximum number of passengers by 50 per cent and keep passengers in their vehicles, if possible, as well as requirements for extra cleaning and hygiene measures.
"We do not anticipate capacity issues," said Cormier. "However, we always suggest customers make reservations. Advanced bookings and payments will assist with social distancing during terminal check-in processing. Customers should also be aware that cash transaction will not be accepted at this time."
The seasonal service "has been categorized as essential service by both provinces," said Cormier.
Maintenance crews have been working since early March to get the ferries ready for the season, he said.
The company has put extra safety measures in place while mechanical preparations are completed this year to protect the health and safety of employees, including social distancing, personal protective equipment and extra cleaning and disinfection procedures.
"In many cases, they are leaving their families to work in Nova Scotia where the ships are located during this time of year and need to comply with self-isolation directives when they come home," said Cormier.
The company plans to publish a crossing schedule "in the coming weeks as we assess latest developments and traffic demand," he said.
"Operational plans will be refined as the season progresses. NFL and its employees are prepared and committed to provide appropriate levels of service in support of our communities and the economy."
Cormier did not say whether the number of crossings would be reduced in light of only essential travel being permitted.
COVID-19: What you need to know
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How can I protect myself?
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More COVID-19 stories from CBC P.E.I.