The Northern Health Authority has joined the provincial government in filling the void left by the departure of the Greyhound bus service between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
Apart from the provincially-financed replacement service BC Bus North that started operating on June 4, Northern Health has expanded the eligibility of those who can ride its Northern Connections buses that travel between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
Now passengers with mobility challenges, passengers 60 years or older and passengers who have to travel to support immediate family members who are receiving health care treatment or services outside of their home community can use the service.
With both services running, it means there is long-haul passenger service either east or west along Hwy16 between Prince Rupert and Prince George every day of the week with the exception of Tuesday.
The new provincial bus service runs two days a week, leaving Prince Rupert Fridays and Saturdays at 8 a.m., arriving at the Skeena Mall in Terrace at 9:50 a.m. and departing again at 10:20 a.m., arriving in Prince George at 7:50 p.m., after making stops along the way, at a cost of $45.
The bus leaves Prince George Thursdays and Saturdays, also at 8 a.m., arriving in Prince Rupert at 7:50 p.m., also at a cost of $45.
There’s no direct connection for people living in Kitimat although they could take the BC Transit bus leaving there at 6:36 a.m. on Friday, for example, arriving at the Skeena Mall in Terrace at 7:50 a.m. for a two-hour wait before catching the new Hwy16 bus leaving the mall at 10:20 a.m. bound for Prince George.
The timing for Kitimat residents qualifying for the expanded Northern Connections service would be similar by arriving at Mills Memorial in Terrace via BC Transit at 7:46 a.m. on a Monday, Wednesday or Thursday and then leaving on the Northern Connections bus bound for Prince George at 10 a.m.
Fares for Northern Connections are also cheaper than the new provincial bus service – a one-way ticket from either Prince Rupert or Terrace to Prince George is $20. And for those going to Smithers, for instance, the fare is $10.
Steve Raper from the Northern Health Authority said expanding its Northern Connections eligibility made sense and had been in the planning for some time. And while there was no direct connection to expanding eligibility at the same time as Greyhound was abandoning its service, it did factor into the move.
“We had a lot of conversations back and forth,” said Raper of talks with the planners of the new provincial service in noting the two bus services run for the most part on different days of the week.
“What we did was look at the social determinants for health,” said Raper. “We had the capacity and our goal is to serve the health and well-being of northerners.”
For people over the age of 60, access to transportation can become an issue that could affect their ability to live at home, Raper added.
It was much the same thought behind expanding eligibility to include anyone who has a physical challenge, limiting their ability at travel.
“Our buses do have lift capabilities,” said Raper.
And enabling people to travel to support immediate family members receiving health care in another community was also considered important in the overall scheme of things, he said.
“Having a support network for someone who is in a hospital, for instance, having family members visit, is crucial for health and well-being,” Raper noted.
Those wanting to travel via Northern Connections have to reserve 24 hours in advance and the service priority will remain for people travelling for medical appointments.
And that means there could be times when passengers meeting the new eligibility criteria can’t be accommodated.