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Ferry fares are not fair, Haida Gwaii school principal says

Cheaper fares are needed for students travelling to school-sanctioned events
BC Ferries’ MV Northern Adventure docked in Skidegate in June 2022. (Photo: Kaitlyn Bailey/Haida Gwaii Observer)

BC Ferry ticket prices for students to travel to school-sanctioned events are a financial burden that was outlined at the recent Haida Gwaii school district (SD 50) meeting on Jan. 24.

Ian Keir, principal at Gudangaay Tlaats’gaa Naay Secondary (GTNS), would like to see students from Haida Gwaii get more of a discount on BC Ferries tickets when they are travelling for student-attended events.

Keir outlined that current ticket prices can be cumbersome.

According to the BC Ferries website, it costs $8.95 for a student who is five to 11 years old to travel on the ferry between Skidegate and Prince Rupert and $17.55 for a student 12 and older.

Across the province, students receive a 50 per cent discount on their BC Ferries ticket when they are travelling for a school event. However, this still means that the cost for students living in Victoria to travel to Vancouver is significantly less than that for students living in Haida Gwaii to go to Prince Rupert.

For example, on Vancouver Island, students who are five to 11 years old only pay $4.65 per trip and students 12 to 18 years old pay $9.35, about half as much as Haida Gwaii students.

When the GTNS boys basketball team recently travelled off the island for a tournament, the group paid $1,014.65 in ferry costs, Keir said.

The ferry price is just the tip of the iceberg for the archipelago’s school groups, though, he explained.

Unlike many of the ferries that service southern B.C., the vessel that goes to and from Haida Gwaii only travels once a day and takes more than six hours. Therefore, in addition to the high cost of the ferry, students have higher accommodation and food expenses due to being away from home for longer.

“When you look at the number of sailings that there are between Vancouver Island and the mainland and what they pay to basically get up in the morning, take a ferry where they need to go, play their game or play their tournament and get on the last sailing of the day which takes about an hour and a half. They sleep in their own beds at night.”

Students from Haida Gwaii have much higher travel bills due to the cost of accommodation and food while they are away from home for multiple days.

“So when you start to look at the ferry costs they actually start to seem astronomical and they start to become a barrier for our students to travel,” Keir said.

“I think ferries can do better. If they realize the complexity of the trips that we are offering and how hard it is and how long our students are away from their home community, they might realize that between $5,000 and $10,000 over a school year for all of our travel is actually a really significant amount of money for us.”

The school board supported the idea of advocating for the issue and motioned for the Board of Education to write a letter to the Minister of Transportation regarding the fees associated with extracurricular travel for students from Haida Gwaii.

About a year and a half ago, the issue of ferry costs for student travel was brought to SD 50’s board, Kevin Black, secretary-treasurer at the district, said.

The school trustees directed school board staff to reach out to BC Ferries. Staff did try to connect and had a series of email exchanges. However, the dialogue did not get anywhere.

With gas prices and other costs rising, Keir and Black thought it was important to raise the issue again.

“We need to be able to go off-island. A big part of our student life is being connected to the school through sports and it’s a huge motivator for some students to make sure that they’re in good academic standings to be able to travel with a team. If we have a very competitive team, it connects a lot of students to their team and subsequently through to school,” Keir said.

“So when I look at their discount, I’m grateful for the 50 per cent fare discount, don’t get me wrong, I just think we are probably in a different category than other [ferries in B.C.].”