On his northern tour, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Todd Stone visited Smithers and met with the advisory council today, to give them an update on the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan.
With the $5 million of funding in place, all five steps of the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan are getting green lights – moving from ideas to actions. The $5 million has been provided through a funding partnership between the British Columbia government ($4 million) and Indigenous and Northern Affairs, Government of Canada (INAC) ($1 million).
Transit expansion ($2.4 million over three years) –
- BC Transit is finalizing the details of routes, schedules and fares, following a 30-day public consultation period with engagement events in over 20 communities.
- The public engagement process included 20 public engagement meetings in communities along Highway 16, five meeting requests, an online survey available for four weeks, 1,033 paper and online surveys submitted and 720 people participating at events.
- Solid support was expressed for transit services along Highway 16 with people in favour of an inter-community bus system that will meet the needs of the communities along the corridor. The $5 proposed bus fare was also well received.
- Next steps: BC Transit hopes to have the first buses up and running by early 2017. The remainder of the buses will start running in spring 2017. The start dates depend on discussions with the local governments and finalizing routes, schedules and fares.
Community transportation operating and capital grant program ($800,000 over three years) –
- The ministry has extended the deadline to receive applications for capital and operating grants under the community vehicle grant program. Applicants now have until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, to submit their applications.
- The ministry held a series of workshops in northern B.C. in early October to encourage communities and organizations to sign up – and take part in this program, which will help smaller communities purchase and run community vehicles.
- Communities located along the Highway 16 corridor from Prince Rupert to Prince George are eligible to apply for grant funding. This includes First Nations, municipalities, regional districts, community organizations or individuals partnered with an eligible community and non-profit societies in an eligible community.
- Next steps: Applications will be reviewed. Once the grants are determined, this new program will get underway. If a community’s application is accepted, the grant program will pay up to 70% of the purchase price of a vehicle (such as a van or mini-van), and up to 70% of the estimated operating cost of a transportation service.
First Nations driver education program ($300,000 over three years) –
- Following an RFP process on BC Bid, the ministry has selected Carrier Sekani Family Services to deliver the First Nations Driver Education Program along the Highway 16 corridor in northern B.C.
- Next steps: The driver education program will get underway later this fall, in large and small communities along the corridor. This program will provide hands-on driver training, to boost the number of Class 4 and Class 5 drivers in First Nations communities along the corridor. It will include training for learner and novice drivers as well. The service provider will be responsible for doing outreach, advertising and contacting First Nations communities to help enrol community members in the program.
Webcams and transit shelters ($1.5 million over two years) –
- All-weather bus shelters are starting to go up in several communities, along with bus stops. The bus shelters have been designed for durability in all four seasons, with protective shelter from rain and snow conditions, a bench and good visibility from the street.
- The ministry has activated three new webcam views in the Smithers area, which help make these areas safer for Smithers residents. Images on the webcams are refreshed frequently and photo times vary.
- Next steps: The ministry has plans to activate four more webcams in communities along the highway by the spring of 2017 to help make the corridor safer.
Collaboration – (in-kind contribution from many stakeholders) –
- The ministry, working in partnership with BC Transit, Northern Health Authority (NHA), First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), has completed an integrated mapping exercise with GeoBC. This was to review medical transportation needs, data and travel patterns along the Highway 16 corridor, to identify good opportunities to better coordinate services to First Nations communities.
- Northern Health has confirmed that 100% of their drivers for the Northern Health Connections bus have completed the indigenous cultural competency training offered by the Provincial Health Services Authority.
- Next steps: The working group will map new or potential transportation capacity to assist in illustrating system linkages and opportunities.
The Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan has been developed to improve safety along this 800-kilometre stretch of highway, in particular to provide better and safer transportation options for women and teenaged girls.
Todd Stone, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure –
“I’m really pleased to see the hard work of the advisory council, First Nations groups, local governments and regional districts paying off, and to see all five steps of this plan taking shape and moving into tangible results. By introducing new and expanded transit services, bringing in a new community vehicle program, funding a First Nations driver education program, putting up webcams and bus shelters, and increasing collaboration, this plan will make it safer for women and teenagers who travel this corridor.”
John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, MLA for Nechako Lakes –
“The different components of this plan are starting to come together, which is really great to see. I know people living in communities along the corridor are looking forward to having new and expanded bus services made available to them, and the community vehicle program will serve the smaller communities very well, with vans and mini-vans soon available to transport community members. All of this will offer safe, reliable, and affordable transportation options for northern B.C. communities.”
Mike Morris, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General –
“Public safety is always top of mind, and through this collaborative effort we are bringing more safe transportation options for individuals living along the Highway 16 corridor, especially with communities about to sign on for the new and expanded transit routes. These new services will benefit northern B.C. greatly and it is wonderful to see all of the progress that’s been made so far.”
Mayor Taylor Bachrach, Smithers –
“The public transit component of the Highway 16 Action Plan has provided a unique opportunity for local governments, First Nations and the Province to work together toward a shared vision of safe, affordable, accessible transportation for all residents. Significant progress has been achieved to date and I’m optimistic that the outcome will be a positive legacy for our region.”
Richard Jock, Chief Operating Officer, First Nations Health Authority –
“There are many individuals and community groups that deserve thanks for their tireless work over many years to improve safety for First Nations communities along Highway 16. We encourage First Nations communities along Highway 16 to apply for the community-vehicle grants before the grant deadline on October 28, and to take part in the driver education program. These programs address a major gap and introduce options for safe and effective medical transportation along this corridor.”
About the Highway 16 Transportation Action Plan: