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

Municipalities hope to create marketing campaign to increase ridership

Expanded transit services as part of the B.C. government’s Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan have been running for about a year now between some communities along Highway 16.

According to the provincial government, on the BC Transit route connecting Smithers and Moricetown, which started on Jan. 30, 2017, approximately 90 people use this service each month. The route connecting Burns Lake and Smithers, which started on June 19, 2017 sees approximately 100 people use the service each month.

On the route connecting Terrace and the Hazeltons, which started on Nov. 20, 2017, approximately 240 people used this service in its first full month.

And on the route between Smithers and the Hazeltons, which increased service on Nov. 20, 2017, approximately 355 people used this service in its first full month.

The $5-million Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan was put in place to improve safety along the 800-kilometre stretch of highway, dubbed the Highway of Tears, in particular to provide better and safer transportation options for women and teenage girls.

However, some think more needs to be done to promote taking transit in the Bulkley Valley.

At the last Smithers and District Transit Committee Meeting held in December, Mike Wyllie of the Smithers Community Services Association reported that the statistics show a general downward trend in the ridership totals and that more advertising is needed to make people aware of the extended evening hours to Telkwa, the Monday to Friday service to Tower Road, and the new Moricetown service, in order to increase ridership. Exact numbers were not available by press time.

At that meeting, members asked the Town of Smithers to apply for marketing funds through the Northern Development Initiative (NDI) marketing program. This would allow the committee to create a promotional campaign to market the Smithers and District Transit service to Telkwa, the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako, Smithers and Moricetown residents.

The Town of Smithers has decided to apply for the grant and contribute $2,000. The grant will pay for half of the marketing campaign. Smithers has asked the neighbouring communities to also pitch a couple thousand dollars towards the initiative.

Telkwa council has recently agreed and decided to support the idea. They will contribute $2,000 towards the campaign, a decision made at their last regular meeting of council last Tuesday.

“There was some discussions about proportion because Smithers is a bigger town but ultimately we recognize the value of trying to make this system work,” said Telkwa Mayor Darcy Repen. “We’ve kept up to date on the rider and user rates and we haven’t seen the increase we’d hope to with the new commuter service and we need to make this work and a huge part of that is getting the message out that the opportunity is there.”

Repen said he’s ridden the bus and he hopes others will give it a chance too.

“If you are are two vehicle household with someone who works in Smithers each day, this is an opportunity to save thousands of dollars a year. I’ve used the service and it is great, it is comfortable and efficient,” he added. “We just need to make sure people are aware that it is there. Hopefully the other partners come to the table and we’ll be able to do a solid promotional campaign.”

Repen said that while the purpose of the marketing campaign is to increase people using transit, it could also help promote Telkwa.

“When people are aware that we have this improved service and they are coming from an urban area and they are used to using transit, all of a sudden recognizing that they can hop on a bus and be at a place of work in 15 minutes sounds pretty good to people who live in a city and spend half an hour, 45 minutes or more on transit to get to where they are at, it is a huge thing for Telkwa and we certainly want to see it successful,” he said. “The rider rates aren’t where they should be based on the people we have in Telkwa that commute to Smithers.”

The Town of Smithers is hoping to apply for the grant before the end of February in time for NDI’s spring quarterly intake.

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