New partnership between BC Transit, Coast Connector Bus Company, and BC Ferries aims to bring integrated public transit service to remote Sunshine Coast communities with coordinated schedules and fares, which could become a model for more collaboration between publicly-funded transit and private-sector bus companies.
A few years back the CBC reached out to Canadian celebrity Ryan Reynolds to request an interview and the actor quickly responded on Twitter, “Put Beachcombers back on the air and I’ll call.”
Many Canadians still remember the adventures of Nick Adonidas and his arch-nemesis Relic – the two combed the beaches of BC’s remote Sunshine Coast for logs trying to make a living and stay out of trouble with the charming but no-nonsense RCMP “Constable John”.
Much has changed on the Sunshine Coast since the popular series aired on CBC and while much of the Sunshine Coast remains a relatively remote location accessible only by plane, private boat or on BC Ferries, it is now seeing a major breakthrough in public transit as BC Transit, the provincial transit agency, has announced a new “Sunshine Coast Connector” project that will connect remote communities along the entire 160km coastline.
The Sunshine Coast itself is divided into a lower Coast (on the traditional territory of the shíshálh Nation) and upper Coast (Powell River – qathet Regional Distict on the traditional territory of the Tla’amin Nation) with a BC Ferries route linking the lower and upper regions between Earls Cove in the south and Saltery Bay in the north.
Getting around the Sunshine Coast is much harder than it appeared on the Beachcombers, and has never been easy for people who do not own a boat, truck or car. Seniors, people living with disabilities, students and others have had to rely on hitch hiking or the generosity of friends and family.
But BC Transit, two local regional government partners as well as BC Ferries aim to fix that problem in conjunction with a small, private bus company called Coast Connector.
BC Transit, the Sunshine Coast Regional District and qathet Regional District have been expanding public service on the Coast for many years, but large gaps remain due to issues familiar to rural communities across Canada: sparsely populated remote regions between local towns and villages.
Rob Ringma, Senior Manager for Government Relations at BC Transit, told Transport Action Canada, “a lot of planning has gone in to trying patch the gaps in local service as well as ensure the various modes of transportation can be linked along the way. Our priority is ensuring no one is stranded at any stage of their trip. In rural communities that is key to transit that works. That people will actually use.”
The Coast Connecter involves multiple links on the journey north from BC Ferries’ Langdale Ferry Terminal or coming south from the small town of Lund at the very end of a highway that technically starts in South America.
Ringma told qathet Regional District in May that BC Transit will be permanently expanding its number 12 bus route return from Powell River to Saltery bay, a service that previously had to be pre-booked “on demand”. The number 12 will meet the ferry from Earls Cove as well as connect with the number 14 bus in Powell River for passengers from Lund (and the surrounding islands).
On the lower Coast, the Coast Connector bus company will take passengers from the Earls Cove ferry terminal to the lower Coast where they can either take BC Transit again in Halfmoon Bay or for an extra fee stay on the Coast Connecter to the Langdale Ferry Terminal.
The service will run year round and cost about $40 one way for an adult passenger from Lund to Langdale, states BC Transit’s Ringma, “that includes the trip on BC ferries as a walk on passenger between Earls Cove and Saltery Bay through the beautiful fjord connecting the upper and lower portions of the Coast.”
“A lot of service connections needed to be worked out, “ adds Ringma, “ plus making sure BC Ferries would not leave the terminal on schedule in the event a bus is behind schedule. Now the ferry will wait.”
Ringma says in addition to the importance of tackling the climate crisis through offering better public transit, the new Sunshine Coast Connecter also addresses the needs and expectations of people moving from cities like Vancouver where they relied on transit and “ now expect the same thing on the Sunshine Coast. “
Future community consultations on the Coast could see the introduction of BC Transit bus service on the entire Coast, making the Sunshine Coast Connecter a fully public service and further lowering the cost. When asked to comment, local MLA Nicholas Simons told Transport Action Canada, “People on the Sunshine Coast know that it’s a real challenge to get around our region without a personal vehicle. This can make accessing medical care and getting to other important appointments particularly difficult, especially for those with mobility challenges. The Sunshine Coast Connector is a good starting point, but I and many other Sunshine Coasters are really hoping for the day when we have regular, year-round public transportation all the way from Powell River to the Lower Mainland.”
While it’s hard to imagine Relic ever taking a bus, Nick and his friends would have almost certainly welcomed the Sunshine Coast Connector as the latest addition to life on the Sunshine Coast.