North still waiting for transportation plan, provincial report finds
HANNA PETERSEN Citizen staff
Despite it being three years since bringing interim bus service to B.C.’s northern communities, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is still working on a long-term transportation plan, a new report by the Office of the Auditor General concludes. Auditor General Michael Pickup said his biggest concern is that the province is working on a province-wide intercity ground transportation plan that does not make clear how it will address the needs of northern residents. For decades, Greyhound Canada was the main option for northern residents without a personal vehicle who needed to travel between communities. Greyhound Canada withdrew bus service between northern B.C. communities in 2018 and no other private company came forward to replace it. In June of that year, the ministry directed BC Transit to provide a 12-month bus service - BC Bus North - while the ministry said it would work with communities to find a long-term solution. Interim funding for the service has been extended three times While the ministry started planning with a focus on the north in 2019, the scope shifted in 2020 from intercity transportation in the north to the entire province and the ministry is now working to address gaps in ground transportation throughout B.C. “The ministry has made progress in its planning but needs to make clear how its province-wide plan will support northern B.C. specifically,” Auditor General, Michael Pickup said. “Northern regions have particular transportation needs - the distances are vast, roads can be treacherous and alternatives are few. People’s livelihoods are on the line. I hope the ministry will consult with northern residents to ensure that the plan meets the unique needs of the region,” he added. The auditor general recommends the ministry ensures the provincewide plan includes sustainable options for northern B.C. and ensures broad engagement with northern communities as part of the planning process. “For many northern B.C. residents, the bus is a lifeline that connects them to job opportunities, essential services like healthcare, education, and family and friends,” said Pickup. “Buses also provide a relatively safe mode of transportation which is an important consideration along Highway 16 also known as the Highway of Tears. The ministry has made progress in this planning, but it needs to be clear how its province-wide work will support northern B.C. I hope the ministry will consult with northern residents to ensure the plan meets the unique needs of those who live in the region.” In its report, Ensuring Long-distance Ground Transportation in Northern B.C., the Office of the Auditor General also found that the ministry ensured BC Transit delivered interim services to only half of the former Greyhound stops near communities as stops were not replaced because they were either on routes into other regions, were unsafe, or alternate services were available. The report noted that although fares are lower than Greyhound’s were, BC Bus North routes reach 35 of the 62 stops near communities that Greyhound served. Trips are also less frequent, reduced to once or twice a week, compared to the daily trips on most Greyhound routes. The report also found that the ministry has done some community engagement on the bus service and community needs, with broader consultation limited by pandemic restriction and the ministry did monitor financial data, but not all of the passenger and service data that it was supposed to. The auditor said this could have helped the ministry understand whether the interim service was working as intended and make adjustments if needed. The auditor general’s report concludes with three broad recommendations: better monitoring of the delivery of interim bus services, engaging with northern communities, and presenting options for sustainable solutions in northern B.C. The ministry has accepted all of the recommendations.