Earlier this year, Lakes District News interviewed some business owners in Burns Lake who said the habit of local residents shopping out of town is one of their biggest concerns.
Over the past few years, the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce and Lakes District News have taken a number of initiatives to encourage residents to shop more locally.
Local business owners could soon have to face another challenge.
As part of the Hwy. 16 transportation plan, the province aims to have the first free buses operating new or expanded services along Hwy. 16 by the end of 2016, and services that connect the entire corridor – between Prince Rupert and Prince George – in 2017. The $5-million plan, first announced in December 2015, is intended to improve safety along the highway corridor, dubbed the Highway of Tears.
But could a free ride to Prince George and other areas negatively impact the local economy?
According to Jordanna Evans, manager of the Burns Lake and District Chamber of Commerce, there are two ways of looking at this scenario.
“Yes, there will be transit to Prince George and other areas at a very low rate, which may entice local residents to hop on that bus and head out of town to shop,” she said. “However, it is also going to bring people into town that may not otherwise have.”
Evans sees the Hwy. 16 transportation plan as an opportunity for Burns Lake.
“It will increase flow through our community, which is going to help business exposure,” she said. “And word gets around – if someone makes a trip to Burns Lake and has a great experience, they are going to talk about it.”
“The proposed transit system is on our agenda to discuss in the upcoming months and so we should have a better idea in the next while of any concerns from our members,” she added.
Train fares will also become a lot cheaper for some people. As part of the Hwy. 16 plan, Via Rail is proposing $5 fares to at risk individuals.
Lanesha Gipson, a spokesperson for Greyhound, said it’s hard to predict the extent of those impacts at this point.
“Although we believe greater access to various transportation options is a benefit to customers and the community, the low fares offered by Via Rail, as well as the added transit service, may reduce Greyhound’s ridership,” she said. “We will continue to monitor the impact this will have on our operations.”