News: Youth sports teams to get free ride on ferries

Coast Reporter - October 30, 2014

BC Ferries (BCF) has agreed to extend its free student fare program to include children and youth travelling to participate in organized sports on the Lower Mainland.

The decision follows years of lobbying by the Southern Sunshine Coast ferry advisory committee (FAC), particularly by former chair and current member Jakob Knaus.

“It will be a great relief to young families, because team participants had to pay the adult fare if they were over 11 years old, half the fare if under,” Knaus told Coast Reporter Monday. “It shows that strong advocacy and perseverance and a good case are often rewarded.”

Knaus was present at the FAC meeting in the District of Sechelt offices on Oct. 24 when BCF vice president of customer services Corrine Storey, appearing by audio link, said the company had decided to move forward with the proposal.

“We think it’s a really good one,” Storey said, adding that BCF would honour the intent of an agreement presented by Knaus in Horseshoe Bay last month.

In response, Knaus said he hoped to see the program in place by the end of the year.

“This proposal has now been accepted in principle by BC Ferries, but obviously administrative wrinkles have to be sorted out with the teams, BCF, the school district and us, if we can help,” he said after the meeting.

Bruce Bauman, the Sunshine Coast Regional District’s acting general manager of community services, described the breakthrough as “huge.”

“This will substantially assist our youth and sports teams. It’s a huge burden relieved from our parents,” Bauman said.

The discount will benefit “hockey, soccer, baseball, figure skating, you name it,” he said, noting that for minor hockey alone, up to 150 children per week travel on the ferry when each team has one game on the Lower Mainland. Some teams, he added, travel off-Coast more than once a week, increasing the total number.

Knaus said the issue goes back 20 years to a Ministry of Transportation decision to exclude both the Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast from youth discount programs available to most ferry-dependent communities south of Port Hardy.

“I do not know the reason, but it might be that we are not an island, or possibly we had a relatively large population,” he said. “I have advocated that our young people should be treated the same as those of the other ferry-dependent communities.”

When BCF first attempted to cut the 6:20 a.m. Sunday sailing several years ago, Knaus said he raised the issue of student discounts at a public meeting in Gibsons.

“I brought up the question whether the community was prepared to make a small sacrifice in upping our fares to allow free travel for school-based outings. All participants agreed and we started to negotiate with BCF for free travel for school-based outings.”

A half per cent increase in fares was implemented in April 2010. When it became clear that only a portion of the funds collected was needed to finance the student discount program, the FAC proposed using the additional fare revenue to extend the program to junior sport team travel.

BCF public affairs manager Darin Guenette said Wednesday that, based on rough estimates, it does not appear the cost of the new and existing discount programs will exceed the amount collected through the half per cent fare increase.

The discount will not apply to vehicles or accompanying adults.

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