Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Province of British Columbia still hopeful that North Coast hops onboard the Highway 16 Shuttle Bus plan

The much anticipated launch of the
Highway 16 shuttle program got
underway in the Bulkley Valley Monday
The first trip of a new shuttle bus service along the Highway 16 corridor took place on Monday, as the Moricetown to Smithers segment of a new province led transportation plan took effect.

The introduction of the new service, which will offer low cost transportation between the communities of Highway 16 was celebrated during an official launch ceremony last Friday.

As part of the speechmaking and background information that was related to the launch, participants in the program hailed the arrival of the long awaited service and outlined how the program would expand.

BC Transit has outlined the particulars of the Moricetown to Smithers route through its website available here.

Some notes on the launch of the service from Smithers to Moricetown can be reviewed below:

BC makes final announcement on 5-year funding for Highway 16 action plan today in Smithers
Highway Transit Service in the Northwest
New Bus route between Moricetown and Smithers
Moricetown residents chipping in $10,000 annually for first leg of Highway of Tears bus run

During the Friday celebration, it was noted that the ambitious program to connect the communities of the region still had a few gaps to fill in, as other civic council's along the highway 16 corridor look to sign onto the Transportation plan.

The Terrace to Hazelton leg of the new service has still to be launched and as it stands at the moment, the westward terminus for the program will come at the Terrace city limits.

As part of the notes from Friday, a BC Transit official observed that to this point, the North Coast is holding to its decision not to participate in the program.

Though it was noted that community leaders can return to the process at any time and that provincial officials are hopeful and even optimistic that the representatives from this region might reassess their decision at some point in the future.

In December, Prince Rupert and the other North Coast communities indicated that they would be taking a pass on the program at this time, announcing their decision not to participate in the transit plan.

During the course of their December announcement, the City of Prince Rupert and its regional partners instead indicated a preference to partner with the local Transition Society, creating a regional approach to address local needs, without the need of a dedicated daily connection to points east.

That has been a decision that North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice has been rather quiet on. So far the MLA has offered little in the way of a statement that shares her view as to whether the North Coast plans embrace the spirit of her advocacy for transportation options for the Northwest.

A check of her many official, or social media communication options for the community, offer up no comments related to the path that the City of Prince Rupert and its North Coast partners chose to take when it comes to an issue that has been the main focus of much her time as an MLA.

Her low profile on that theme locally is somewhat of a surprising thing, considering how much time and attention she has dedicated in the past to the topic. It was through her efforts in the Legislature chamber where the MLA most frequently delivered her view on the need for the shuttle bus concept across Northern British Columbia.

It's just a bit ironic that a version of a plan that she has long advocated for is now taking shape in many areas of the North, except in the area that Ms. Rice represents in the Legislature.

While the North Coast remains on the sidelines of the initiative, the push to add more communities to the list of those participating grew even further as the first leg of the new map began to go into service.

The province recently announced that it would be adding to the timeline for it's plan of two thirds funding towards the initiative, increasing their commitment from three to five years.

As well, it's expected that an update will come this spring to explain which communities of the Highway 16 corridor will next see the service introduced in their area.

Monday, the City of Prince George committed to a five year funding commitment of 50,000 dollars per year for the provincial plan, increasing its involvement in the initiative from an original decision to participate for only one year.

From the media coverage of the Prince George discussion, it was noted that the Central interior city had expressed a desire to bring some stability to the project, as well as to offer some leadership for the smaller communities across the north.

One theme that seems to have resonated with the Prince George civic officials was related to a concern that had been heard from along the highway 16 corridor and the fears for some that the decision by Prince Rupert to not participate might have an impact on the future of the overall program.

City Commits to 5 years of funding for Highway 16 Transit
Council commits to funding Highway Transit
City Council approves long term Highway 16 public transit investment

Burns Lake is also showing a change in its original position, noting that with five years of provincial funding ahead, they too may soon hop on the bus.

Burns Lake Mayor optimistic about Transit Service between Smithers

Whether the increased commitment from other communities around the north and the change to the funding timeline offered by the province gives North Coast officials cause to reconsider their decision, is something that may yet stir some debate among the local stakeholders through the year.

More items of interest related to the Highway 16 corridor can be found here.

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