The March 30 minutes of a Hwy. 16 transportation plan’s advisory group meeting, which were recently made public, show an offer from Via Rail that could prove hard to refuse.
The non-agent Crown corporation offered $5 fares to “at risk” individuals to improve safety along the region’s main thoroughfare, also dubbed the Highway of Tears.
Via Rail currently offers passenger train service three times per week on each direction between Prince George and Prince Rupert, with stops in Burns Lake if a passenger asks the conductor to stop.
Burns Lake Mayor Luke Strimbold said he believes this is a great initiative for individuals along Hwy. 16.
“The more affordable options that are available for people will increase the opportunity to find a safe method of transportation,” he said.
Strimbold is part of the advisory group that will decide who counts as “at risk” in the company’s plan.
Houston Mayor Shane Brienen, who’s also part of the advisory group, said he was surprised by the company’s generosity.
“That’s a really interesting thing they’re proposing and a really great deal for low income people and First Nations and students and seniors… anyone [who] they count vulnerable,” he said. “I’m not sure what that’s going to look like yet, but a really good deal for those types of people.”
Via Rail is also proposing a 33 per cent discount for Aboriginal passengers.
Community meetings about the Hwy. 16 transportation plan have been scheduled for Sept. 1 in Kitwanga, New Hazelton, Kispiox, Moricetown and Smithers. New Hazelton and Smithers will also have a second meeting on Sept. 8.
B.C. Transit plans to engage with Burns Lake residents at the upcoming Lakes District fall fair.
According to Mayor Strimbold, First Nations groups in the Burns Lake area are also currently working with B.C. Transit on consultation plans for their communities.
In addition, a survey is available online until Sept. 16 at bctransit.com/highway16.
The Hwy. 16 transportation plan is a $5 million plan to improve transportation services along Hwy.16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert and roads feeding onto it. The plan is to have a series of transit pods that run between hubs, with Burns Lake, Smithers and Hazelton being hubs on the route.
The federal government has also committed $1 million for enhanced shelters and cameras along the highway corridor. The province aims to have the first inter-community buses rolling by the end of this year.