On Jan. 30, 2017, the first expanded transit service as part of the Hwy. 16 transportation action plan started running between Smithers and Moricetown. (File photo)

Hwy 16 transit use inconsistent

Two years in, bus ridership is down or up since a year ago depending on which community.

The press release title from B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure reads ‘Increased use marks Highway 16 plan’s second anniversary.’

Overall that is true, but not all communities from Terrace to Prince George are experiencing increased ridership along the inter-community routes, according to the Ministry’s own numbers from a year ago.

The Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan started with its first route between Witset and Smithers in January 2017, and is separate from the BC Bus North program that replaced Greyhound in June of last year.

Driven by the Burns Lake to Prince George route that counted 390 rides per month, and the Hazelton to Smithers route with 285 rides per month, the Ministry release said the inter-community service has provided about 18,000 rides since it started — up from 5,000 after the first year.

The six-day Witset-Smithers route is up to 115 rides per month, up from 90 after after the first year. It costs $2.75 to get on this bus. All other routes are $5.

READ MORE: Smithers-Moricetown bus service 6 days per week

That Hazelton-Smithers route may still be popular, but it is down from when it first increased service at the end of 2017. The first full month saw 355 riders.

Second-year route numbers of riders per month (first-year numbers in parenthesis):

Burns Lake-Smithers 160 (100)

Burns Lake-Prince George 390 (300)

Smithers-Witset 115 (90)

Smithers-Hazelton 285 (355)

Hazelton-Terrace 170 (240)

READ MORE: The wheels on the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan rolling for a year now

As part of the plan, there are also connections to places off the main highway like Kispiox and Glen Vowell.

Full schedules and maps can be found by navigating the BC Transit site at bctransit.com/choose-transit-system.

For Bulkley-Nechako (Witset, Smithers, Burns Lake, Prince George) routes click here.

For Hazeltons to Smithers or Terrace, click here.

Tickets can be bought at municipal offices along the routes.

READ MORE: BC Transit introduces larger buses on Highway 16

For longer routes going all the way down the highway, BC Bus North is at bcbus.ca. Reservations are required.

In a report from a Dec. 21 Smithers and District Transit Committee meeting, Smithers routes 22 (to Telkwa) and 23 (to Witset) were said to have an overall ridership increase of 18 per cent over 2017 “over the last three months.”

Ridership for the on-demand para-transit service was reported as up 14 per cent in the same time for Smithers and District Transit. Combined ridership for the Smithers routes and para-transit was listed at 4,700 for those three months.

Also passed by the committee and then Smithers council at the Jan. 8 meeting was a motion moved at committee by Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako (RDBN) Area A (Smithers rural) Director Mark Fisher that would result in double the money coming from the RDBN to Smithers for transit.

The motion read that in lieu of Area A’s $5,000 per year raised from taxes, Smithers apply for a Gas Tax grant from RDBN Area A for $40,000, with Area A giving that over four years at $10,000 per year.

The Province has committed to funding the $6.4-million Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan inter-community service for five years. The funding covers the cost of buses and two-thirds of operating costs. Local governments and First Nations partners are responsible for the remaining third of costs.

READ MORE: Highway of Tears public transit plan wins safety and security awards

–With files from Quinn Bender and Marisca Bakker.

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