BC Transit service connecting Terrace west to Prince Rupert and east to the Hazeltons could be in place by the end of the year, say local elected officials involved in the planning.
But local governments must first, with BC Transit, work out service frequency possibilities and from that, determine costs, say Kitimat-Stikine regional district chair Stacey Tyers and Terrace Mayor Carol Leclerc.
The potential for both routes is part of a $5 million-three year package announced last week by the provincial government to provide new transit service along Hwy16 from Prince Rupert to Prince George, boost existing or provide new service from more remote communities to communities and enact other measures for safer and more efficient public transportation.
Within that package is $2.4 million for Hwy16 BC Transit service which it will use to pay for two-thirds of operating costs with local governments providing the remainder.
“What we’ve done is sign memorandums of understanding,” explained Leclerc who also sits on a provincial Hwy16 transportation advisory group. “What we don’t know are final costs.”
“What we’ve talked about, between Terrace and Hazelton, is two days a week and the same with Prince Rupert,” she said.
Leclerc’s pleased with having BC Transit provide two-thirds of any route’s operating cost, an increase of the standard 53 per cent it provides for regular transit.
“That’s definitely an increase. BC Transit would be 66.66 per cent and local governments 33.33 per cent,” she said.
Leclerc’s optimistic service could be in place by November.
“When we first met, in January, there was hope this could be in place by May,” she added.
Tyers was also optimistic about increased Hwy16 transit service.
“Now the local communities are at the table and that’s good,” she said.
Tyers was also hopeful existing service could be improved such as BC Transit’s Skeena Connector which runs weekdays between Kitamaat/Kitimat and Terrace with extensions to New Remo to the west of Terrace and east to the Kitselas First Nation’s Gitaus subdivision.
That route is financed by BC Transit along with the Kitimat-Stikine regional district, Terrace, Kitimat, the Haisla from Kitammat, Kitsumkalum and Kitselas.
The Northern Health Authority also contributes to the Skeena Connector to provide a medical travel option between Terrace and Kitimat.
Tyers did caution that local governments would want to ensure that provincial assistance would extend past the current three-year commitment.
“We wouldn’t want to put something in place and then have to reduce it or take it away,” she said.
And care must be taken so that any new Hwy16 service doesn’t interfere with existing providers such as Greyhound or VIA Rail, Tyers added.
“Hopefully we’ll be working to complement that existing service,” she said.
Aside from costs to local taxpayers, BC Transit and the local governments would also have to determine fares for the new routes.
The overall Hwy16 transit plan was first released last year and was to be $3 million over two years but the time period has now been extended by one year and the budget increased to $5 million.
Other parts of the Hwy16 program include:
– $800,000 over three years for communities who have their own transportation service to either buy vehicles or receive money to help operate them.
As with BC Transit service this is cost-shared and the communities must come up with 30 per cent of what’s needed to either buy a vehicle or operate a service.
In this area this could apply to the Nass Valley, where each of its villages have their own buses making trips to Terrace.
– $300,000 over three years to hire a contractor to provide driver training to First Nations individuals.
The expectation is that more First Nations people in smaller communities who have driver’s licences will increase the prospect of these communities having community-use vehicles.
– An original $500,000 set out for webcams and transit shelters has now been increased to $1.5 million thanks to a direct contribution from the federal government. Webcam and shelter locations will be decided upon when transit routes are finalized.
– Most ambitious of all are the plans to have better cooperation and coordination for medical patient travel between existing providers such as the Northern Health Authority’s Northern Connections bus service.
– That could involve, for example, having smaller vehicles from more northern communities arrange schedules to meet up with Northern Connections buses who travel back and forth along Hwy16.
Transportation minister Todd Stone said increased cooperation and coordination is essential.
“It wouldn’t do any good to have a community van miss the departure of a health bus by 20 minutes,” he said.
Stone also gave credit to the federal indigenous affairs department for providing $1 million to provide more web cams and shelters than first planned.
Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin, welcomed the news and noted the long time it took to put a package in place.
“It’s been 10 years since the first Highway of Tears symposium in Prince George called for this,” he said.