Medical transportation eligibility broadened

Greyhound may have abandoned its passenger service between Prince Rupert and Prince George but a provincially-financed replacement service is now in operation and the Northern Health Authority has expanded the eligibility of who can travel on its Northern Connections buses meant for people who have medical appointments away from their hometowns.

Taken together, 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 Northern Connections expansion is limited, however, to people over the age of 60, to people who have physical challenges requiring, for instance, wheelchairs and people who need to travel to support an immediate family receiving health care treatment or services outside their home community.

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 at 9:50 a.m. and departing again at 10:20 a.m. and eventually arriving in Prince George at 7:50 p.m. after making stops along the way at a cost of $45.

It 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-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 similiar 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 as 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 who do wish to travel via Northern Connections do have to reserve 24 hours in advance and the service priority will remain for people traveling for medical appointments.

And that means there could be times when passengers meeting the new eligibility criteria can’t be accommodated.

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