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

Impaired driver blows twice the legal limit

Kelowna RCMP are reminding drivers that counter attack road checks are underway

Kelowna radio hosts aim to get 10,000 items for those in need

B Mack and Karly’s Cold Weather Clothing Drive kicked off Dec. 10, getting cold-weather donations for those in need.

The Rockets are fueled up and ready to win

Rockets kick off four-game trip ahead of Christmas break

UPDATE: Sagmoen to stand trial

Curtis Wayne Sagmoen will appear on all three Vernon matters this week

More snow to kick off the week

The Okanagan and Shuswap will see a light dusting of snow Monday night

Federal government plans examination of coerced sterilization

The Liberals have been pressed for a rapid response to recent reports on the sterilizations

Huitema, Cornelius named 2018 Canadian Youth International Players of the Year

Huitema was captain of Canada’s fourth-place team at this year’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup

Canada not slowing emissions from oil and gas: environmental groups

New report released at the United Nations climate talks in Poland

Liberal Party moves Trudeau fundraiser from military base

The fundraiser is scheduled for Dec. 19, with tickets costing up to $400

Pipeline protesters arrested at B.C. university

Three protesters were arrested after TRU property allegedly vandalized with red paint

Goodale to ‘examine’ transfer of Rafferty to medium-security prison

Michael Rafferty was sentenced to life in prison in 2012 in the kidnapping, sexual assault and first-degree murder of Tori Stafford

‘Abhorrent’ condition of autistic B.C. boy shows flaws in care system: report

‘Charlie’ was underweight and ‘covered in feces’ when he was removed from his mom’s care

Minister appoints former CIRB chair to resolve Canada Post labour dispute

Postal workers engaged in weeks of rotating walkouts

Most Read