Dr. Jacqueline Holler of the University of Northern B.C. is heading a research project about hitchhiking. It is the first of its kind in North America since 1972. What makes this project unique is the level of cooperation between the RCMP and the university researchers.
Part of the collaboration includes local RCMP officers collecting information from hitchhikers regarding their needs and motivations.
“We have what looks like a ticket book, but it’s an information gathering form that we later give to the research group so they can chart and look for patterns,” St.. Sgt. Grant MacDonald explained to Village of Burns Lake council members during a policing report to council.
“They’ll use that information to establish where the hitchhiking hotspots are and then they’ll focus their interests on those areas,” he added.
“It coincides with a power point presentation that we present to young hitchhikers to help them understand if there are better and safer ways to get around other than hitchhiking,” MacDonald said.
Although the study is not limited to hitchhiking patterns in Northern B.C., Dr. Holler hopes that the study will shine light specifically on the challenges hitchhikers face in the North.
“We are particularly interested in experiences in Northern B.C.,” Holler wrote in an email. “One of the things we hope to understand is whether Northern B.C. is ‘different’ from other places when it comes to hitchhiking.”
The project not only involves the RCMP in one-on-one conversations with hitchhikers but relies on data collected from GPS tracking devices used by five courier companies out of Prince George that travel the highways. The technology will allow drivers to click a button to input hitchhiker sightings.
The data collected by RCMP and through GPS tracking methods are essential to the project, but just as important is feedback from hitchhikers themselves.
“Hitchhiking is a mode of transportation,” Holler said. “I am really hoping that we can, through the study, cut through the marginalization and stereotyping of hitchhikers and let their voices, stories, and activities guide us toward making Northern B.C. a safer and healthier place.”
Online surveys are available and it is important for the project’s completeness that actual hitchhikers participate and fill them out.
“We need to know why people hitchhike,” Holler explained.
“This will help us understand why some groups hitchhike more than others, and what services we need to be offering in order to give people more transportation options.”
“We also need to know how often people have bad experiences and whether they report those to the police.”
“This is critical from a public safety point of view, since if people aren’t reporting threatening or violent experiences, [then] the predators on our highways, and we know they’re out there, are that much more likely to continue their behaviour.”
Holler said that their preliminary results so far have indicated that hitchhikers are a diverse group with diverse reasons for hitchhiking, and that ‘bad rides’ happen more often than people might think.
The survey will continue through next year and Holler encourages hitchhikers to complete the survey and to contact her to arrange interviews in early 2013.
“Let your readers know that they can complete the survey at http://fluidsurveys.com/s/hitchhiking/ and can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org,” she said.