Accessing transit on Highway 16 remains a challenge for Northwest communities

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Last week, the B.C. government announced a one-year funding extension for B-C Bus North, a transportation service it created after Greyhound buses left Northern B.C.

However, the bus only runs from Prince Rupert to Prince George twice a week. For a transportation service along a highway where safety issues are top of mind and where many women have gone missing, some say more could be done.

Mary Teegee, executive director of Carrier Sekani Family Services, says there are still transportation gaps in the North.

"I'm very happy there is the extension, however I think we need to look at longer term solutions rather than just have a year by year solution. We need to look long term."

Teegee has a personal connection to this issue. Her cousin, Ramona Wilson, was murdered along the highway in the mid-1990s.

She says providing adequate transportation along the highway will not only improve safety, but also people's health. 

"Transportation in and of itself is a social determinant of health, and it impacts everything when someone doesn't have a vehicle to get to their appointments, to get to school, to get to shopping. Think of the most vulnerable of our clients, the one who might not have the extra dollars to drive to their appointments, to drive to getting grocieries. Think about the elderly, the shut-ins."

The Friendship House Association of Prince Rupert offers bus trips between Prince Rupert and Terrace twice a week, at the cost of just 10 dollars for a round trip. Executive director Anna Zanella says the service has been going well, but it can't fill all the gaps.

"Sometimes our bus is full and we just can't run more of them. We only have the one."

Although Northern Health runs a medical bus service, Zanella says difficulties surrounding medical transportation are one of the main concerns she hears about from people who live along the highway. 

"Even though there is a medical bus, sometimes the timing for when things run, it doesn't match up with appointments. Or if somebody has to travel to Vancouver for essential services, right, you'd have to be able to get from Rupert to Terrace -- and the options, there's not a whole lot."

However, changes to B.C. Bus North could some soon. In a press conference last week, Fleming said the province is developing a multi-year funding and service model for B.C. Bus North. The transportation minister said they'll have more to say about it in the coming days and weeks ahead.