Highway 16 action plan details emerge

BC Transit is asking for public feedback regarding the Highway 16 action plan to be implemented later this year for at-risk travellers.

B.C. Transit is asking for feedback regarding the Highway 16 action plan announced earlier this year. The plan is for at-risk travellers who may not be able to afford transportation along Highway 16.

BC Transit is asking for public feedback regarding the Highway 16 action plan to be implemented later this year for at-risk travellers who may not be able to afford bus or train fare along Highway 16 toward Prince George.

The plan, introduced by the provincial government earlier this year, is a $5 million initiative proposing to install an inter-city bus service between communities along Highway 16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George along with bus stop shelters and CCTV cameras, features paid for by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada ($1 million).

More than 20 in-person sessions are planned for communities across the highway, starting with Vanderhoof and Prince George this past Saturday.

Community meetings are scheduled for Prince Rupert and Port Edward on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at locations to be announced in the future.

“This BC Transit engagement process is a vital part of the action plan,” said Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure last week.

“For this reason, it is important to hear from the people who live and work along the Highway 16 corridor to ensure we implement transit services that reflect the needs of the community. I encourage local residents to come out and participate in building a safer future for those who travel on Highway 16.”

Four separate service routes are proposed along the 750km stretch of highway, including service between Terrace and Prince Rupert, Hazeltons area to Terrace, Burns Lake to Smithers, and Burns Lake to Prince George.

Two round trips per day are currently proposed for two to three days per week from Terrace and Prince Rupert, with two buses leaving Prince Rupert at 9:35 a.m. and 5:10 p.m. and two buses leaving Terrace at 7:05 a.m. and 2:40 p.m. BC Transit is looking for feedback on which days this schedule would work best for people.

“What BC Transit has heard so far is that the largest need at this point in time is for same day return trips between communities and larger regional centres, so that’s what the plan focuses on, said Jonathon Dyck, communications manager for BC Transit.

Along with the in-person sessions, an online interactive survey is available for residents to fill out until the survey closes on Sept. 16. It can be found at https://bctransit.com/highway16

“What we really want to do is get as much public feedback as possible, so we can incorporate that into the final plans that we’re putting together,” said Dyck.

“The engagement process will assist us in designing a system that will meet the needs of our customers and the communities along Highway 16. It is important that we hear from as many people as possible through the engagement process,” added Manuel Achadinha, BC Transit president and CEO.

The Ministry of Transportation confirmed that it has engaged in talks with Via Rail about possible options to be included as part of the plan.

“The five-point [Transportation Action Plan] identified the need for collaboration to increase interconnectivity of services; as part of this, Via Rail was included in discussions about what role they could potentially play to increase tansportation options along Highway 16,” said Kate Mukasa, Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure public affairs officer. “We continue to engage with Via Rail on the idea of offering a discounted train fare to vulnerable First Nations people.”

Empty seats on Greyhound buses to be subsidized also hasn’t been explored yet, added Mukasa.

“Greyhound has not submitted any recent requests to the Passenger Transportation Board to reduce service along the Highway 16 corridor. However, we must remember that Greyhound is a private company that may seek to eliminate or reduce their long haul services if they are not economically feasible … Smaller companies are able to develop service models that more efficiently meet local needs and are cheaper to operate,” she said.

More information about the Highway 16 Community Access program can be found at http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/transportation/passenger-travel/highway-16-community-access

Details about the program are expected to emerge after community discussions take place in the fall of 2016.