By Andru McCracken

The Province’s answer to Greyhound’s departure from Western Canada has been renewed until March 31, 2021. However the service offers nothing for Robson Valley residents wishing to travel to Kamloops, or across the border to Jasper.

The renewal of BC Bus North comes with a federal contribution and a new set of fares that reflect the distance travelled. The Government of Canada, through an organization called Western Economic Diversification is contributing approximately $1 million. The Province will contribute the same.

Valemount to Prince George (via McBride) is one of four routes. The other three routes connect Prince George to Prince Rupert, Fort St. John and Fort Nelson (with stops in between).

BC Bus North is aligning fares with distance. That means some fares will increase, but for Valemount and McBride residents travelling to Prince George and back the rate is still $35 per direction. Travelling between Valemount and McBride will cost $11.

The federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau said the funding helps address gaps in inter-city bus services.

“We know how important it is for Indigenous communities and Canadians living in rural areas to have access to affordable transportation services, whether to visit family members or to attend a medical appointment,” said Garneau.

The federal government’s contribution was contingent on tendering the service through a competitive bid process.

“When Greyhound stopped its service in the North, we didn’t want to leave people without a reliable and affordable transportation option,” said Claire Trevena, B.C. Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “That’s why we started BC Bus North and why we’re now partnering with the federal government to continue to fund B.C.’s northern inter-city bus service through March 2021.”

The transportation service will survey users this spring.

BC Bus North has provided rides for almost 9,000 people since the service was launched in 2018.

A spokesperson for BC’s Ministry of Transportation Danielle Pope said 89 per cent of the routes that were being serviced by Greyhound in 2018 now have some level of intercity bus service.

She said nine private inter-city bus companies operate 10 routes in BC covering the majority of the province.

There are only two segments of former Greyhound routes that were withdrawn in 2018 that do not have service: Fort Nelson to Watson Lake and Valemount to Kamloops.

Pope said Northern Health Connections provides service for residents who are accessing a health service not available in the area or who are 60 years and older.

Some inter-provincial routes have been covered by private operators and Pope said the ministry welcomes more operators to provide service.

The Goat queried bus users for their feedback on the service.

For Valemount resident Barb Shepherd, a lack of access to Kamloops is a problem.

“With no way to get to Kamloops, a person is not able to connect with the southern part of the province,” she said. “How do we get some action (on that)?”

Dunster resident Bonnie Culp wishes the BC Bus North would stop at the Prince George airport.

“Why isn’t a stop at the airport part of the package, arriving and departing?” she asked. “Several of us would fly out of Prince George, and do…but getting there in the morning would be very helpful.”

Culp said if the schedule ran three days a week it would allow a longer stay.

Culp currently drives to Jasper to use Sundog Tours, which arrives in the early morning, in time to catch a flight from Edmonton or Calgary.