Local resident Richard Dominic sits in one of the new 30-seat buses recently introduced by BC Transit for the routes between Prince George and Smithers. (David Gordon Koch photo)

BC Transit upgrades fleet for Highway 16 after Greyhound nixes routes

Buses that can carry more passengers will curb hitchiking along the Highway of Tears, officials hope

BC Transit has unveiled new buses designed to carry more passengers between Prince George and Smithers, in a move that many have hailed as a step toward greater safety along the notorious Highway 16 – known to many as the Highway of Tears.

Starting May 7, the larger buses will be plying the 161 route from Prince George and Burns Lake, and the 162 route from Burns Lake to Smithers.

But as Greyhound prepares to withdraw service from the region, questions remain about whether the larger buses will be enough.

‘A long time coming’

The new buses seat up to 30 passengers, compared to the current fleet of 20-seater buses. They also boast four spaces for wheelchairs, compared to two on the current buses. When all four wheelchair spaces are in use, the new buses accommodate 20 seated passengers.

Dignitaries gathered in front of one of the new 30-seat buses introduced by BC Transit for the routes between Prince George and Smithers. (David Gordon Koch/Lakes District News)

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Richard Dominic, a local resident and bus rider who attended the official launch in Burns Lake, which involved speeches by dignitaries and a test ride in the ElDorado International 320 Aerolite bus.

Dominic said that people hitchhike less often because of the service, which costs $5 per trip, but that buses fill up fast.

READ MORE: Greyhound cleared to end routes in northern B.C., Vancouver Island

READ MORE: Opportunity seen to improve Hwy 16 transit after Greyhound leaves

He said the new buses were a tribute to campaigning by women like Brenda and Matilda Wilson — sister and mother, respectively, of Ramona Wilson, who was 16 years old when she disappeared along Highway 16 in 1994. Her remains were found the following year, but the case remains unsolved.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation band councillor Ted Jack, speaking to the crowd that was assembled near the bus stop at Government and Gilgan, said he still sees women hitchhiking. “It just breaks my heart to see that,” he said. “If we save one woman, we’ve done our job.”

Demand growing

The 161 bus carried more than 2,500 passengers between June 2017 and February 2019, while the 162 route saw 1,064 boardings. And demand for the service is growing, according to BC Transit.

High demand has even led to people reportedly being turned away from full buses in some cases.

That demand could increase as Greyhound prepares to end most of its northern B.C. operations on June 1, a change it attributed to competition from ride-sharing services and BC Transit.

Chris Fudge, the senior regional BC Transit manager for northern B.C., acknowledged that the public bus — which doesn’t offer a long-haul service — isn’t enough to replace Greyhound, adding that the limited town-to-town service was never meant to compete with long-haul transport companies.

“The idea was that it was a service that would bring you from your community to the nearest regional centre and return the same day,” he said.

Bus driver Randy Rensby behind the wheel of the one of the new 30-seat buses recently introduced by BC Transit for the routes between Prince George and Smithers. (David Gordon Koch/Lakes District News)

Asked if the withdrawal of Greyhound would prompt BC Transit to extend the service, Fudge said that remains an open question.

Before that kind of extended service could be introduced, local governments would have to signal their interest and show that they could help pay for it, said Fudge.

Then BC Transit would help develop a plan and request provincial money to put the plan in motion.

“That’s an annual process that we go through every year for transit systems that are wanting to expand,” he said.

Money for the new vehicles — they have a price tag of $260,000 each — came from the federal and provincial governments, part of $160 million in funding for BC Transit projects announced in 2016.

Limited schedule

BC Transit operates four lines along Highway 16: Prince George to Burns Lake, Burns Lake to Smithers, Smithers to Hazelton, and Hazelton to Terrace.

But since the times of the four segments aren’t coordinated, there will be no long-haul service across the four zones once Greyhound ends its service in June.

The Burns Lake-Prince George connection operates only Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while the Burns Lake-Smithers bus has departures on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

That means a rider could leave Prince George at 3 p.m. on a Tuesday and would reach Burns Lake around 7 p.m. that evening. They would then have to stay overnight before a 6:46 a.m. departure the next day. Each route has just one departure in each direction on days when the service is running.

The BC Transit buses also lack facilities such as toilets and large baggage compartments.


@Burns Lake News
david.koch@ldnews.com

Like us on Facebook.

Just Posted

Candidates make their case to be part of Nanaimo’s next council

Select candidates’ debates held Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Conservation officer advises caution following cougar sighting at Long Lake

Saturday’s incident the most recent in string of sightings at Nanaimo lake

Nanaimo Art Gallery unveils new front-entrance sculpture

‘Supernatural Eagle Bringing the Sun Back to the World’ made by sculptors William and Joel Good

Nanaimo RCMP ask for help finding missing woman

Serenedawn Cook was last seen Oct. 5

Candidates’ meeting will put council hopefuls in a ‘fishbowl’

Debate is tonight, Oct. 15, at Vancouver Island Conference Centre

Dying motorcyclist gets last-ride tribute at Nanaimo hospital

Friends grant Corinna Pitney’s wish ‘to hear bikes roar, to see leather and chrome’

Candidate lists finalized for Nanaimo, Lantzville, RDN, school district

Nomination deadline passes in advance of Oct. 20 local government elections

Election 2018: candidate questionnaires

News Bulletin’s questionnaire responses for Nanaimo, Lantzville, school board, regional district

Nanaimo council candidates talk about public consultation and branding the city

Chase River town hall candidates’ meeting was held Sunday afternoon

Trump: Saudi king ‘firmly denies’ any role in Khashoggi mystery

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is travelling to the Middle East to learn more about the fate of the Saudi national

Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen dies at 65

Allen died in Seattle from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Nanaimo Clippers ‘clip’ North Island Atom Eagles’ wings on the road

The Nanaimo Clippers defeated the North Island Atom Eagles 6-4 on Saturday in Port McNeill.

Rotary Used Book Sale in Nanaimo a real page-turner

An estimated 100,000 previously enjoyed books are being sold at Nanaimo North Town Centre

Transport Canada to take new look at rules, research on school bus seatbelts

Canada doesn’t currently require seatbelts on school buses

Most Read