Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Auditor General review of Northern BC Ground transportation calls for long term plan

A new report from the Auditor General of British Columbia has raised a number of areas of concern where work is still required to provide for a long term plan to address transportation needs in Northern British Columbia.

In his report, released on Tuesday, Auditor General Michael Pickup explored some of the progress that has been made on transportation themes in the north,  but also observed to the ongoing challenges facing residents from Prince Rupert to Prince George and points North and south.

"Northern B.C. is an area larger than the entire country of France and the bus is a lifeline for many residents in places like Prince George, Prince Rupert, Fort Nelson, and Valemount. People depend on the bus to get to jobs in other communities, access essential services like health care, go to school, or visit family and friends.

The ministry has made progress in its planning but needs to make clear how its province-wide plan will support northern B.C. specifically, 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."

The report which is titled Ensuring Long-distance ground transportation in Northern BC, explored a range of themes that have developed since Greyhound Canada ended its service to the region, highlighting the areas that need immediate attention and those that are in the scope of some much long term planning.

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The Auditor General also provides a few starter questions for British Columbians to bring up with their local MLA or Cabinet Ministers should the opportunity arise. 

What is the ministry’s timeline for presenting options for long-distance ground transportation in the north?
How will the ministry ensure communities are engaged during the planning process? 

How will the ministry ensure that it regularly monitors the interim service?

The 25 page report can be reviewed here.

Towards the province creating a Transportation plan for Northern BC, the report identified a few areas where the path towards that plan has been slowed,.

The ministry told us that it had expected to gather feedback from northern communities as part of its planning but the pandemic (starting in March 2020) prevented travel and in-person meetings. The ministry was able to do some limited engagement (see text box). Northern Development Initiative Trust said it was planning to do community engagement related to intercity bus in 2022 and the ministry said it planned to participate in some of that engagement.

The ministry broadened the scope of its planning work to include ground transportation for the whole province in 2020. Planning documents from that time show the working goal was to have “a provincial intercity bus network along major provincial corridors.” Since then, the ministry has assessed the current state of subsidized ground transportation in B.C. and conducted a transportation needs assessment for rural, remote and Indigenous communities across the province
(see text box). 

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In July 2021, it identified gaps in provincial ground transportation where the government could be involved. One of these gaps is long-haul intercity bus service on priority highways. The ministry said it would work on recommendations and plans related to these gaps throughout the fall and winter 2021-22. 

While this work could help inform options for the province, it is not yet clear how it will address sustainable ground transportation in northern B.C. Based on this, we could not conclude that the ministry had a plan for sustainable ground transportation that reflected the needs of northern communities.

In the conclusion, Auditor General Pickup observes as to why the need for a plan is of significance, as well as recommendations to follow up on by the province.

There is a risk that – without an approach for northern B.C. – the broader work on ground transportation across the province may not lead to a sustainable solution in the north.

Ensure that the plan for provincewide ground transportation includes options for sustainable solutions in northern B.C.  

Ensure broad engagement with northern communities as part of planning for sustainable ground transportation solutions

Included in the report's release, is a video from the Auditor General that provides an overview of the project.

Prince Rupert is served by the BC North Bus, which has arrivals and departures in the City on Thursday's and Saturday's. 

North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice spoke to some of the themes of transportation in November, observing on new provincial funding for the BC Bus North system.

More themes on transportation on the Highway 16 corridor can be reviewed here.

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