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)

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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

GIF
’90s rock band resurfaces with songs never properly recorded or released

Underwater Sunshine’s online reunion involves four guys who lost contact for years

Tim Siebert, one half of the partnership behind Citrus & Cane, says opening the Douglas Street cocktail lounge during a pandemic had challenges, but the bar is ready to adapt to whatever comes next. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
New Victoria tropical cocktail lounge designed with COVID-19 safety in mind

Citrus & Cane opens in site of former Copper Owl after eight-month delay

Kennedy Nikel, applied marine biologist at Cascadia Seaweed, here seen in late September, shows off bull kelp (in her left hand) and rock weed. The company is spear-heading an annual seaweed festival scheduled for May 13-21, 2021, with Sidney council have signed off in principle. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Cascadia hopes to see Sidney host seaweed festival in May 2021

Council supports the idea in principle following a presentation by Cascadia Seaweed

Trevor Davis, base manager of the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation in Sidney, stands in front of the Hecate Sentinal, an oil skimming vessel based at Sidney’s Van Isle Marina. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Oil spill response base taking shape on Saanich Peninsula

Enhanced base with elements in North Saanich and Sidney to be fully operational in fall 2022

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

A man walks by a COVID-19 test pod at the Vancouver airport in this undated handout photo. A study has launched to investigate the safest and most efficient way to rapidly test for COVID-19 in people taking off from the Vancouver airport. The airport authority says the study that got underway Friday at WestJet’s domestic check-in area is the first of its kind in Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Vancouver Airport Authority *MANDATORY CREDIT*
COVID-19 rapid test study launches at Vancouver airport for departing passengers

Airport authority says that a positive rapid test result does not constitute a medical diagnosis for COVID-19

A small crash in the water south of Courtenay Saturday afternoon. Two men had to be rescued, but reports indicate there were no serious injuries. Photo by Mike Chouinard
Small plane crash in Comox Valley waters Saturday afternoon

Two rescued from plane that had flipped in water; no serious injuries reported

A photo from 2017, of Nuchatlaht First Nation members outside court after filing a land title case in B.C. ( Submitted photo/Nuchatlaht First Nation).
Vancouver Island First Nation calls on B.C. to honour UNDRIP in historic title case

Nuchatlaht First Nation says Crown counsel continues to stall the case using the ‘distasteful’ argument that the Nation ‘abandoned’ their land

West Vancouver Island’s Ehattesaht First Nation continues lock down after 9 active cases were reported today after a visitor tested positive last week. (Ehattesaht First Nation/Facebook)
Ehattesaht First Nation’s COVID-19 nightmare: nine active cases, a storm and a power outage

The Vancouver Island First Nation in a lockdown since the first case was reported last week

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

The Ahousaht First Nation confirmed its first case of COVID-19 on Nov. 26, 2020. (Westerly file photo)
Ahousaht First Nation on lockdown over COVID-19

“Emotions are high. The anxiety is high. We want our community to pull through.”

Most Read