By Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada’s National Observer, with files from Goat staff

B.C. is examining long-standing roadblocks to intercity transportation for rural communities and other underserved areas in the province.

The province is spending $2.5 million on in-person and virtual community consultations and online surveys to study passenger transportation gaps faced by rural and remote areas in B.C.’s north, on Vancouver Island and parts of the coastal mainland, as well as the southern Interior. 

In the north, Northern Development Initiative Trust is conducting a survey for its Northern Inter-Community Transportation Study. The study is focusing on the connections between Northern B.C. communities and in rural areas not served by existing public transportation. The trust attended Robson Valley farmers markets last week to hand out surveys and speak to residents. The deadline to fill out a survey is June 25th.

Along with funding the provincial study, the Province is setting up a micro-funding program with grants up to $15,000 to help finance transportation priorities or projects raised by communities during the surveys, she said. 

The survey data will help inform the province’s next steps for developing options for transportation solutions in rural communities, the Ministry of Transportation said in an email. However, no concrete details or timelines for action were provided.

The province is working on a Clean Transportation Action Plan to drive down greenhouse gas emissions and boost clean transportation options, which the ministry said will be released sometime this year. 

One of the goals of the action plan is to increase the share of trips made by walking, cycling and transit to 30 per cent by 2030. 

But the ministry has not clarified if a provincewide clean, affordable public transport system that meets rural communities’ needs for intercity transport is a pillar of that plan. 

Two separate interview requests to Transportation Minister Rob Fleming by Canada’s National Observer about intercity transportation gaps in rural communities have gone unanswered since March. 

The province set up the BC Bus North intercity network after Greyhound withdrew services for the northern mainland in 2018, particularly along Highway 16, dubbed the Highway of Tears after at least 18 women, most Indigenous, were murdered or went missing.

But the government-funded BC Bus North service and associated community shuttle network don’t extend to rural or isolated First Nations communities in the southern parts of the province or on Vancouver Island. 

The province also announced $5 million in funding to continue operating BC Bus North and the shuttle program until 2026-27, along with another $250,000 to set up a new reservation system. 

(Original story edited for length and local content)