Smithers and Houston mayors and councillors met Thursday to discuss a range of issues for what may have been the first meeting of its kind. Top of mind was expanding public transportation to connect the two communities.
This came the same week Smithers council passed a recommendation by the Smithers and District Transit Committee to send a letter to BC Transit and the Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure asking to be included on the expansion list for an afternoon commuter service between Smithers and Telkwa.
“We talked about how a number of people have moved from Terrace or Smithers to Houston because of the lower housing prices, and also that a lot of the services they require are in Smithers,” said Mayor Taylor Bachrach of the meeting he said some suggested calling “the Hungry Hill summit.”
“Particularly for seniors and people on low incomes, having some sort of transportation link is an important thing to think about.”
Houston Mayor Shane Brienen agreed. He is a local government representative on the new ten-person Highway 16 Transportation Advisory Group created by the province on Dec. 14.
“We talked a bit about the provincial government and the money that’s there and the opportunity there is to move forward and maybe get something happening on that transportation issue, and how that ties into the missing women and some low income people,” said Brienen.
A key part of the province’s plan to make Highway 16 safer involves municipalities taking the lead on connecting communities from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
Costs for any route expansion would be split 50-50 by the province and municipalities. The province put aside $1.6 million over two years to extend or enhance transportation services.
Mayor Brienen said discussions have been going on for a while, and hopes to have news on the whole corridor shortly.
The Smithers council motion last Tuesday to be put on a list for expansion of the Smithers-Telkwa route does not specify how it would be expanded. The goal according to Mayor Bachrach and Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen is to increase ridership by having buses run when people could use them — namely getting to and from work. The last run to Telkwa leaves before 5 p.m.
Bachrach said ideas include having split shifts for the drivers, and speaking to employers to survey staff who live in Telkwa to find out if they know about the bus and how to adapt the service so they would use it.
Mayor Repen is walking door-to-door in Telkwa to see how residents there would consider using the service more. According to a district transit committee report, an average of 61 passengers per day use the bus. He said after visiting only 20 homes, four people had already committed to buying a pass.
If ridership increases after a work route was added, Repen sees an even later route from Smithers.
“If people want to come in and meet friends for an hour or two, or if your kids are doing recreation things or if they’re working, a six o’clock bus may not cut it. I think it’s the priority — don’t get me wrong, we have to match ridership with costs to some extent here — but if we have a really successful route at six o’clock and if generally we’re able to drive up readership, that is encouraging for developing say an eight o’clock bus.”
Bachrach said he planned on meeting the Hazeltons councils in February to discuss transportation.