A brand new 15-passenger vehicle is the newest endeavour to help combat hitchhiking along Highway 16 thanks to the Friendship House of Prince Rupert’s successful grant application.
Friendship House executive director Anna Zanella will be able to add the van, one that already includes the Sunshine Coach – a well-worn van that is a frequent sight around the streets of Prince Rupert, transporting children and families to activities, jobs, school and anywhere else life takes them.
“The name of my project grant was the 3 Sister Friendship Centre Women’s Taxi Service. [The new 15-passenger van] is to help people get from Prince Rupert to Terrace and it’s going to be utilized in the community as well,” said Zanella.
The Prince Rupert program was one of 12 successful applicants out of 29 to get funding from the provincial government’s community vehicle grant program under the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan.
Two million dollars was made available, up from $800,000 after a large need was recognized in communities all along Highway 16 that applied for the grant.
The executive director will use her portion (an expected $90,000) to purchase the vehicle and operate it for two years.
“The Highway of Tears issue that came about … initially that’s how we started this process. We were looking at a women’s taxi service locally in our community as well as trying to help ensure people could get from one place to another up along this corridor all the way to Prince George,”Zanella said.
For the past several years, the Friendship House has used its Sunshine Coach van to transport its residents around town. The vehicle is showing signs of wear and has almost reached its useful life.
“[With the van] we provide safe rides to our youth as well as elders within our community and as well, if they were going to do an outing or field trip. The van that we do use is getting quite old and it was time to upgrade that,” she said.
Zanella also hopes to purchase a wheelchair-accessible vehicle in the near future to add to their transportation service. So far, the program has garnered nothing but rave reviews from the community.
“The families really like that the youth can be brought home after their activities here in the evenings after school. This new van will actually help us to bring the youth to our Gathering Our Voices Aboriginal Youth Conference. They were just in Kelowna [for it] and there were 1,200 youth there this year,” she said.
Not only does the funding help provide opportunities for safe access, but it provides employment opportunities for those driving the van, Zanella added.
The executive director will purchase the vehicle within the next few weeks, with the grant program paying for up to 70 per cent or more of purchase and operational (gas, insurance, maintenance, wages) costs.
The province conducted a needs-based analysis throughout the corridor, with a focus on applicants representing First Nations and/or remote communities that may not have existing transportation networks.
“We’re really excited about this. I think it’s an important issue and it’s really nice to have the support of the Province of B.C. to get us started with this,” Zanella said.