BC Transit has announced that the new Hwy. 16 bus service will start operating in mid-June 2017.
Chris Fudge, BC Transit’s senior regional transit manager, and Matthew Boyd, BC Transit’s manager of planning, made the announcement during a recent board meeting of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako.
They also announced that Pacific Western Transportation (PWT), the largest privately-owned passenger transportation company in Canada, was awarded the contract to run the bus system.
Mark Fisher, Director of Electoral Area A (Smithers Rural), said he has some concerns about awarding the contract to such a big company.
“My concern is that a big company won’t be fully engaged with the community,” said Fisher.
Fudge said he would take those concerns to the PWT executive, adding that PWT already operates a number of BC Transit bus systems, including in Prince George, Whistler, Fort St. John, Squamish and Port Alberni.
“They are bringing a lot of experience to the table, not only on the transit side but in terms of transporting passengers over long distances,” said Fudge.
No connection between routes
Although the new bus service will connect Burns Lake to Prince George and Burns Lake to Smithers, passengers will not be able to travel from Prince George to Smithers on the same day.
BC Transit has determined that the Burns Lake to Prince George route will offer one round trip per day, three times per week – Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
“The bus would be departing from Burns Lake in the morning, travelling to Prince George, and it would be laying over in Prince George for approximately four hours,” explained Matthew Boyd, BC Transit’s manager of planning. “That would give all the riders an opportunity to get off and do shopping or medical appointments or any other reasons that they need to travel to Prince George or any other area in between.”
The Burns Lake to Smithers route will also offer one round trip per day, three days per week, but on different days – Monday, Wednesday and Friday. There will be a five-hour window in Smithers.
“The bus will depart from Burns Lake in the a.m., arrive in Smithers and have some layover time, and return later that afternoon,” said Boyd.
There will be no bus services on statutory holidays.
No washrooms on buses
The buses that will be making the approximately three-hour trip from Burns Lake to Prince George and the two-hour trip from Burns Lake to Smithers will not be equipped with washrooms.
However, passengers will have an opportunity to get off the bus halfway between the Burns Lake to Prince George route. Riders will be able to get off the bus in Vanderhoof and use a public washroom while the bus continues its route through the town, giving riders a few minutes before they hop back on the bus.
“We’re obviously talking about long distances, so that’s something that we’ll have to monitor closely in case it needs to be addressed in the future,” said Chris Fudge, BC Transit’s senior regional transit manager.
Flagging the bus not encouraged
Chris Fudge, BC Transit’s senior regional transit manager, said that although flagging buses along the highway will be permitted, it will not be encouraged due to safety concerns.
“This is something that we’ve had a lot of discussions internally about how this issue should be addressed,” said Fudge. “We want this service to be as accessible as possible and give people in rural areas the opportunity to get on the bus, but we had some discussions with our project team and there are definitely some concerns that we want to be addressed.”
“I think we all agree that with the nature of the service, and particularly the speeds that the buses will be travelling at, we’re strongly recommending that customers use designated bus stops,” he continued. “I think you can imagine a scenario where someone tries to wave down a bus that’s going at highway speed, they got a large commercial vehicle that’s right behind them, and that’s just not a good scenario.”
“While we have left the door open for people to flag down the bus, we certainly want to address the safety concerns and really strongly urge people to use designated bus stops,” he added. “But it’s something that we’ll monitor along the way.”
Mark Fisher, Director of Electoral Area A (Smithers Rural), said that although he understands the safety concerns, a large percentage of the regional population live in rural areas.
“If it’s going to serve the region, then it’s got to serve the rural areas,” said Fisher. “There are places near the highway that are safe for pulling over; we don’t need a big fancy stop, we just need a place we know the bus is going to stop.”