Sandspit high school students may soon get to and from the Alliford Bay ferry by public bus.
Run by the non-profit Sandspit Community Society, the bus would stay on Moresby Island, taking students and passengers to meet the 8:05 a.m. and 4:05 p.m. sailings each school day.
As of press time, the society and the Haida Gwaii school district were still working out a service contract. School trustees voted to negotiate one at a regular meeting on Sept. 26.
“I feel great about it — I think it’s a service people have wanted for a while,” says Lauren Field, president of the Sandspit Community Society, which also runs the Sandspit Inn, the visitor centre in the Sandspit Airport, Logger Sports Day, and the Sandspit Wild Harvest Festival.
While Sandspit families currently get $13 per day from the school district to help cover driving costs — part of a islands-wide policy to help families whose students can’t walk or take a regular school bus to school — the money doesn’t help anyone to schedule the weekday drives with full-time work, to arrange carpooling, or to get childcare for younger siblings.
Sandspit parents have raised the lack of bussing for years, noting that it can be a safety concern given that students sometimes hitch-hike if they miss a ride.
While the district found that adding a Sandspit route would be too costly with a regular school bus, the Sandspit Community Society has offered to run the service for about $23,800 a year — just $2,000 more than the district currently pays for the $13 per day assistance.
But the society can only run the bus at that cost if it is also open to public passengers, whether daily commuters or people heading to Graham Island from Sandspit Airport. Running the bus strictly for students would cost an extra $7,000 a year.
“We’re going to open it up, hoping that some of the airport runs will work for us,” Field said, noting that Air Canada’s afternoon flight to Sandspit is scheduled to land shortly after 3 p.m.
“As long as the plane is landed and everybody’s off with their luggage, it should work fine.”
After speaking with Sandspit families, school district staff found that six support the public bus idea, while two are opposed and one family could not be reached. If a contract is signed and the public bus does go ahead, Sandspit families will no longer be eligible for the $13 daily assistance.
Currently, Sandspit has 11 students who travel to Queen Charlotte to study at GidGalang Kuuyas Naay Secondary, but that number is expected to rise to 15 students next year and to 25 students by 2021.