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

VIDEO: Fires break out in scrap piles at Harmac mill

Nanaimo firefighters got blazes under control in early morning hours Saturday

Ladysmith Arts Council awarded $20K to develop public art strategy

The Arts Council of Ladysmith and District has been given $20,000 by… Continue reading

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

Naloxone workshop in Chemainus gives people the tools to deal with an overdose situation

Community paramedic provides valuable information amid growing opioid crisis

PHOTOS: B.C. city wakes up to darkness under wildfire smoke

The rest of the province also dealing with thick haze as smoky skies continue

Two hurt in car wreck on old Island Highway

Honda and Volkswagen crash at 10 p.m. Friday at highway intersection in Nanaimo

Authorities mull evacuation order for Zeballos

Smoke billowed from the steep hillsides of Zeballos on Friday evening, as… Continue reading

Safeway union urges prejection of mediator recommendations

Says mediator asks for too many concessions

Fire chases B.C. crews out of their own camp

Crews in Burns Lake had to leave after a wildfire reportedly overtook their sleeping quarters

To address peacock problem, B.C. city moves ahead on trapping plan

Surrey’s new bylaw focuses on ensuring people no longer feed the birds, ahead of relocation

Hospitals to see ‘delays’ in care after losing Saudi students, health group says

About 1,000 Saudi residents called back to kingdom after suspending diplomatic relations with Canada

Bernier diatribe against ‘extreme multiculturalism’ boosts Liberal coffers

Party spokesperson Braeden Caley says online donations doubled, social media engagement quadrupled

‘Disjointed’ system hinders British Columbia First Nations in wildfire fight

More than 550 wildfires were burning in B.C. and crews were bracing for wind and dry lightning

Most Read