Today Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone announced $2 million in new provincial and federal funding for the now $5-million Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan, outlined the progress made to put the plan in action and opened the application process for new community vehicles.
The five-point action plan, unveiled in December 2015, includes expanded or new public transit services, a community vehicle grant and operating program, a First Nations driver education program, increased transportation safety through new transit shelters and webcams, and increased collaboration and co-ordination between existing transportation service providers along the corridor.
Over the last six months, the 12-member advisory group – made up of First Nations, municipal leaders, the First Nations Health Authority, the Northern Health Authority and ministry representatives – has met regularly to advance the plan, fine tune the details and develop implementation strategies. The group has mapped out timelines and target dates for these new and expanded services, developed the application process for the community transportation grant program and the requirements for First Nations driver education program.
Major progress highlights:
- To date, BC Transit and local governments along Highway 16 have signed 16 Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) to move forward with new transit routes for the corridor. With local government support, BC Transit service will be put in place from Prince George to Prince Rupert. BC Transit aims to have the first buses in service by the end of the year.
- The ministry committed an additional $800,000 to run BC Transit service for a third year – a commitment made as a result of discussions with local governments and the 12-member advisory group (increased to $2.4 million made available).
- Tripled the original funding for transit shelters and webcams, with a new $1 million commitment from Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) for these safety features.
- The transit shelters will be installed where the new routes will be put in place and will make transit pick up and drop off safer along the corridor.
- Installed three new webcams in the Smithers area and will be activating four more webcams along the highway by the spring of 2017.
- A new webpage, where First Nations communities, Aboriginal organizations, municipalities, regional districts and non-profit groups can apply for funding for community vehicles and operating grants: www.gov.bc.ca/highway16transportationgrant
- The ministry is investing an additional $50,000 in the community vehicle grant program, to bring the total funding for the program to $800,000 over three years.
- Doubled the money available for First Nation driver training, with a new $150,000 commitment from the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation (now $300,000 available).
- The ministry posted the request for proposal (RFP) today on BC Bid for qualified organizations to deliver a First Nations driver education program in the region.
- Increased collaboration and connectivity of services along the corridor. For instance, the ministry, Northern Health Authority (NHA) and First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) are using integrated geographical information system (GIS) mapping to look at medical transportation needs and patterns, to better co-ordinate medical transport services for people in First Nations communities.
Over the coming weeks and months, the ministry will be further engaging with First Nations Chiefs and Councils, mayors and councillors, First Nations organizations, and community groups, to ensure that they are kept up to date on the implementation plan and have the information they need to participate in the actions outlined today.
The ministry will report back on the implementation of the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan as services become available later this year.
Six backgrounders follow, identifying the members of the advisory panel and providing more details on each of the five actions.
Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure –
“We want to see northern communities connected with safe, reliable, and accessible transportation options, in particular providing better and safer options for women and teenage girls. There are five different components to this plan, which complement each other to support safer public transport in First Nations communities and municipalities in the north. The advisory group has been working diligently on implementation plans, and today we are actively moving forward on all five steps in a significant way.”
Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Government of Canada –
“Transportation safety, especially on remote highways, is critical to ensure the wellbeing of all Canadians, but especially Indigenous women and girls. After hearing from family members, survivors, loved ones and representatives from front-line organizations that participated in the National Pre-Inquiry Engagement on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, we know that there are things we can do now to address the high rates of violence. We are pleased to be working with our provincial partners to support vital infrastructure and programs that will make it safer for women and teens who travel this corridor.”
John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation –
“The action plan has opened the door to practical solutions to create a cohesive, safe, and reliable inter-connected transportation system along the Highway 16 corridor. By working to sign transit MOUs with local governments, by creating a website for communities to apply for grant funding, and by posting an RFP on BC Bid for the First Nations driver education program, the B.C. government is actively working to implement this plan.”
Mike Morris, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General –
“Today’s progress on the five-point action plan will be of great benefit to the First Nations communities and municipalities along the corridor. Access to transit services, community transport services, and more shelters and webcams along Highway 16 are just some of the tangible results of this plan. This enhanced transportation network will help increase safety for those living in smaller and more remote communities in the north.”
Shirley Bond, MLA Prince George-Valemount –
“This action plan recognizes that there are women, teenagers and children in particular that need and expect additional transportation options. It is important that this plan begins to provide more options that will increase personal safety along the Highway 16 corridor. I appreciate the work that has been done in consultation with First Nations leaders, municipalities and others to make progress and move this important action plan forward.”
Richard Jock, chief operating officer, First Nations Health Authority –
“FNHA commends the work of women and families who are currently engaged in a walk to cleanse Highway 16 and to raise awareness of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. We are pleased to collaborate on new possibilities coming out of the Highway 16 Action Plan. These efforts help address the underlying issues causing risks for women travelling the Highway 16 corridor and will help develop new and safe means of transportation for individuals in the area. In our view, safe and accessible travel is a key determinant of wellness and foundational to improving public health and safety.”
Mary Teegee, executive director, Child and Family Services, Carrier Sekani Family Services –
“It has been 10 years since the Highway of Tears Recommendation Report came out and we are finally making progress on recommendation number one, which was to provide a shuttle service along Highway 16. I view transportation as a basic human right, and all people in the north should have access to services that are currently enjoyed by the rest of B.C. I am very pleased that we are making progress to provide safe transportation in northern B.C. This initiative is a good example of what can occur when there is collaboration.”
Luke Strimbold, mayor of Burns Lake –
“Local governments, First Nations, and the Province are working together and making significant progress on a solution that many leaders have been advocating for. Transportation is important for the socio-economic well-being of communities along Highway 16 and this is a great opportunity for these communities to increase collaboration for these services as well as economic opportunities and more. The increase in transportation services will be successful because of the co-operation between all of our communities.”
Taylor Bachrach, mayor of Smithers –
“While much work remains, I'm pleased to see the amount of progress that has been made on this file so far. It’s positive to see the wide range of initiatives coming together in a region where travel between communities is such a critical aspect of daily life. It's also good to see a shared commitment between the Province, the federal government and local governments to providing safe, affordable passenger transportation.”
Wanda Good, Deputy Chief Council, Gitanyow –
“Many communities along the Highway 16 corridor do not have access to the services or amenities that most of us take for granted, such as accessible healthcare services or transportation. The commitment the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has made to work with these communities to provide safe transportation is a welcome initiative by all who live here. We look forward to witnessing the benefits of increased safety and a better quality of life for everyone who travels along the infamous Highway of Tears.”
Brenda Wilson, family member –
“I have spent many years advocating for improved transportation along the Highway 16 corridor. The funding and transportation services that the government is providing will have a positive impact on First Nations people living along the Highway 16 corridor. I’d like to thank the advisory group and everyone else who provided direction and input on these changes; it has taken a lot of time and effort that is welcomed and appreciated.”
For information on the Highway 16 Action Plan, go to: www.gov.bc.ca/highway16actionplan