BC Ferries considering free vouchers for Lower Mainland student athletes

Sophie Woodrooffe - Coast Reporter

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Local government and BC Ferries are in preliminary support of an idea to redistribute ferry vouchers to allow Lower Mainland youth sports teams to travel to the Sunshine Coast on discount.

Elphinstone Secondary volleyball coach Andrew Appleton appealed to School District No. 46 trustees at a Nov. 15 board meeting to support his efforts to find a solution to the dearth of home games on the Coast.

BC Ferries/Shutterstock

Appleton also asked BC Ferries to consider modifying the voucher system currently in place to give Lower Mainland teams a discount.

Darin Guenette, public affairs manager with BC Ferries, later confirmed with Coast Reporter the idea could work so long as the Lower Sunshine Coast community supports it.

Currently, Sunshine Coast youth teams can apply for vouchers through the SCRD and SD46 to travel on Route 3 between Langdale and Horseshoe Bay to participate in sports events on the Lower Mainland. The vouchers do not cover the fares for cars and drivers.

The voucher system is funded through a half per cent increase on Route 3 fares. It was launched to give Coast teams a break on travel expenses, which is why the discount currently only applies to them. Adding off-Coast athletes to the program would not require extra funding, Guenette said.

At the SD46 meeting, Appleton said he’d like to find a way to make travel for Lower Mainland teams less expensive to entice them to the Coast. “What we really need if we want to have home games is to have access for those kids on the mainland that would come over here if they didn’t have to pay $30 for every kid,” Appleton told trustees, adding that “without the home crowd, I really do think that something is missing in that sports program.”

Board chair Pammila Ruth noted that the South Coast branch of the BC School Trustee Association (BCSTA) had previously lobbied to get student vouchers for ferry travel. “That’s a fight I know we’d be willing to keep going at the BCSTA. That’s something we can see going forward,” she said.

Appleton said his goal is to find a solution in time for next year’s volleyball season. He said Sunshine Coast-Powell River MLA Nicholas Simons supports the initiative. Appleton has also contacted the Ministry of Education and was redirected to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Related: BC Ferries plans to revamp reservation fares on three major routes

Guenette of BC Ferries said the idea would likely have to be raised at the Southern Sunshine Coast Ferry Advisory Committee, given that the current system was intended to support Coast athletes and because it’s funded through fares. “In a way this is still helping the sports teams because they are getting home games,” added Guenette.

On Nov. 3, Appleton organized an exhibition volleyball tournament and invited eight teams from the North Shore, all of which declined. The competition was held anyway with participation from upper and lower Sunshine Coast teams. It drew a home crowd of about 200 supporters.

“Every school in the province doesn’t have this issue where they have to pay to play team sports,” Appleton told Coast Reporter following the SD46 board meeting. “All we’re looking is to have it equal across the board.”