by Shannon Lough – The Northern View
Shortly after a six-day bus service between Moricetown and Smithers for $2.75 a trip enhanced a BC Transit plan to connect all communities along Highway 16 from Prince George to Prince Rupert to discourage hitchhiking, Prince Rupert has decided to go a different route.
The City of Prince Rupert decided it won’t contribute to the original provincial plan that would see an affordable limited bus service to and from Terrace.
Instead of sharing the costs with the province to support a three-year pilot program that would provide a low-cost round-trip bus service, the city announced on Dec. 7 it will support a localized solution with the North Coast Transition Society (NCTS) that offers at-risk women and children safe transportation.
The NCTS service enables women and children to call or text any time of the day or night if they need to travel and don’t have the means to pay. The travel assistance has been available for the past two years.
“The North Coast Transition Society’s existing service provides a safe and immediate response, and in addition NCTS provides wraparound social services and support to women and children to ensure they are adequately provided for in times of need. We believe this to be the most important priority,” said Prince Rupert Mayor Lee Brain.
The wraparound service ensures there is support for the woman once she arrives in Terrace. The Ksan Society has a transition home for women and children and will be informed on who is coming from Prince Rupert to make sure they’re okay once they arrive.
Through provincial grants, the NCTS in Prince Rupert offers women and children emergency funds and travel assistance when seeking help. This includes taxi vouchers to the Transition House, as well as transportation out of town and to Terrace.
“The grant money is not permanent so it is fortunate that the City of Prince Rupert has reached out with their idea to address keeping vulnerable citizens safe when using highways or situated in remote areas. NCTS has the ability to respond immediately in times of crisis and or high risk situations to determine the most effective and efficient plan for their safety,” said Christine White, executive director of NCTS.
The service is adaptable and utilizes transportation networks already available, such as bus, trains, ferry and works in conjunction with other community partners to ensure the safety of the person or family, White said.
In the summer, the provincial government announced the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan to improve transit and safety along the infamous Highway of Tears, the 800-kilometre stretch of highway between Prince Rupert and Prince George where several women have been killed or have gone missing.
Part of the province’s $5-million plan was to create a community transportation program, where the municipalities and First Nations’ governments would share the cost in providing a bus system along the highway.
“While we are disappointed that Prince Rupert has chosen not to support inter-community transit along Highway 16, we respect their decision to go another route,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone. “We have said to Prince Rupert that the door is open, should the community decide to change direction and take advantage of the transit program in the future.”
BC Transit spokesperson Jonathon Dyck stated in an email that further discussions will be required with the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine, the proposed local government contract holder, to determine next steps.
A six day a week bus service between Smithers and Moricetown will begin in January through a partnership with the provincial government, BC Transit and local governments.
“With so many partners along the corridor committed, plans to implement transit service between communities from Terrace through to Prince George can proceed,” Stone said.
Between August and September, BC Transit asked the public for feedback on what they would like from a bus route for their community. Most residents who responded to the provincial survey stated they wanted to use the bus service for medical appointments or for shopping in Terrace.
After consulting with First Nations and service groups, Port Edward council, provincial and federal representatives, the City of Prince Rupert determined the limited bus service back and forth to Terrace two to three times a week was not the best option. City officials believe that in more centralized areas where communities are closer together, such as between Terrace, Hazelton and Smithers, BC Transit’s proposed bus plan makes more sense.
“For us, supporting NCTS is a localized solution that can act in complement with improved transportation between communities inland,” Brain said.
The District of Port Edward had also been skeptical on the cost-sharing bus program to Terrace.
“We believe this proposed alternative transportation program better serves our circumstances,” said Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald.
For planned trips, residents have access to the Greyhound bus service that leaves Prince Rupert at 10 a.m. daily as well as a VIA rail passenger train that departs three times a week at 8 a.m. For patients, Northern Health operates Northern Connections bus service for out-of-town medical appointments.