Flavio NienowLakes District News
The B.C. government has recently announced it will commit to two additional years of funding for the Hwy. 16 action plan, which is designed to alleviate hitch-hiking along the highway corridor by providing an affordable bus service.
The province had originally committed to covering two-thirds of the operating costs for a period of three years, which has now been extended to five years.
This decision comes after regional districts, municipalities and First Nations along the highway corridor asked B.C. Transit and the province for a longer term commitment.
The province has also increased funding to hire a regional service coordinator. While the original plan was to provide $80,000 over a two-year period, the province has now committed to $60,000 a year for three years.
“This will definitely help our mayor and council make a decision,” said Burns Lake councillor John Illes, who was representing the village at the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako meeting when the announcement was made.
Burns Lake is one of two municipalities in the Prince George to Smithers section that still haven’t signed their service bylaws.
During a council meeting on Jan. 25, 2017, Burns Lake councillors said there were still unanswered questions about the bus service and that they needed more information before signing the bylaw. After the province’s announcement, councillor Illes said all his questions had been answered.
“I believe that council will now support the transit function,” he told Lakes District News.
One of the concerns of the Burns Lake council was that the municipality would not be able to withdraw from the plan after approving the bylaw. The village has committed to a maximum contribution of $12,500 per year toward the plan.
“It’s possible to withdraw from the plan, but it’s the [regional] board’s decision,” explained Sheryl Worthing, Burns Lake’s chief administrative officer.
Local governments, through regional districts, are working together to share costs for their one-third share of the operating costs.
Smithers, Fraser Lake, Granisle, Houston, Telkwa and Fort St. James have already signed their service bylaws.
The City of Prince George has only committed to one year of funding so far. The city has requested that, once all municipalities make their decision, the regional district send a letter outlining what is being requested of the city to present to their council for further consideration.
Vanderhoof still hasn’t signed the service bylaw. Mayor Gerry Thiessen told Lakes District News that the Vanderhoof council still has some doubts about the service.
“I think we will be talking to both the regional district and B.C. Transit over the next week to make sure there is confidence on going forward,” he said last week. “I hope we get the information by then.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he hopes all municipalities will jump on board with this plan since making changes to the bylaw would delay the service.
“It feels like we have this incredible opportunity and we have made so much progress to get to where we are now,” he said. “We’re right on the brink of providing a service that’s been called for 10 years.”
“I think we have this window of opportunity to really seal the deal and get buses on the road,” he continued. “I’m quite concerned that the way this has been set up, it really requires all of us to make it happen.”
“Hopefully at this meeting we can really hear the concerns of those communities who have put in letters with conditions and do everything we can to address those concerns and move forward with the bylaw,” he added. “I think that if we change the bylaw, this is going to add more time to the process and I’m afraid we’re going to miss that window [of opportunity].”