WITH the provincial government now looking at ways to improve regional transportation methods, it may want to consider what’s already in place in the Nass Valley north of Terrace.
Village governments there each have minibuses of varying passenger capacity making trips to Terrace and back.
For the most part the villages concentrate on taking elders to Terrace to shop for groceries and for appointments.
“Each month, when social assistance cheques arrive, the bus will take elders down in the morning and back in the afternoon,” says Eric Grandison, the communications officer with the Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh) Village Government.
“It’s a service provided by the village government, meant for lower income people,” said Grandison of Gitlaxt’aamiks, the largest of the four Nisga’a villages in the Nass Valley.
It’s a similar situation in Gingolx, which is located at the mouth of the Nass River and at nearly 170 kilometres from Terrace is the farthest village from Terrace.
The village has two buses, one of 20 passengers and one of 28, says Gingolx economic development officer Valerie Doolan.
“It’s free for the seniors,” she said of trips made once a month to Terrace.
“We don’t have a regular run. It’s based on demand.”
The bus does not stop at villages along the way to Terrace but the village will charter for specific purposes, Doolan added.
One example is that of the Nass Valley’s brass band, the Majagaleehl Nisga’a Band, which has members in each community, she said.
“And for parent-teacher meetings, the bus will be chartered to take parents to those meetings [at schools in other villages],” Doolan said.
She added that the village would consider an expanded transit service should a sufficient budget be available.
Another Nisga’a village, Laxgalts’ap (Greenville), maintains a busy transportation schedule, says one of its drivers, Mark Watts.
He drives a 29-passenger bus and has been doing the trip from Laxgalts’ap to Terrace for about 10 years.
“This one is four years old and it has 174,000 kilometres on it,” said Watts of the vehicle while parked one day last week in the Skeena Mall parking lot.
That day he had taken a group of elders to Terrace for shopping and was waiting to take them back to the Nass Valley.
Laxgalts’ap also uses the bus for youth and students, taking them to Terrace to swim or to go to dinner and take in a movie, said Watts.
And just recently Watts made a trip to Terrace to pick up a load of presents for Christmas for the village’s children.
“It was full, stacked right up,” said Watts of the shipment of presents.
While there may not be a regular transit service between the Nass Valley and Terrace, the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority operates a medical transport service similar to that of the Northern Health Authority’s Northern Connections bus service.
A minibus makes a regular return weekday trip beginning in Gingolx and stopping in each village on the way to Terrace for people with medical appointments.
“For medically required travel, we’ll also go to Kitimat and take people to the airport if they need to go to Vancouver,” said Maggie Patsey from the Nisga’a Valley Health Authority.
The authority also uses a smaller van for travel within the Nass Valley for those living in its smaller villages to travel to the authority’s main health centre in Gitlaxt’aamiks.
Road connections to the Nass Valley have improved thanks to a multi-million dollar construction program which took place nearly 20 years ago. That included a road to Gingolx from Laxgalts’ap which once could only be reached by air or boat.
Symposium examines transport options
EVERYTHING from having people share vehicles when traveling from smaller communities to larger ones to having BC Transit expand to highway service was discussed last week in Smithers as northwestern officials and others gathered to find a way to better connect the region.
Also discussed was whether an expanded transportation network would be free, user-pay or otherwise operated as a non-profit.
The Nov. 24 Smithers session was hosted by the provincial transportation ministry and the First Nations Health Authority.
Terrace city councillor James Cordeiro, who represented the city along with councillor Brian Downie, said the provision of an improved regional transportation network is complicated.
Cordeiro likened the situation to having spokes connecting to a hub with the former being smaller communities and the latter larger ones.
“The hubs may be connected with what’s available now, but it’s the spokes that are important,” he said of the lack of a formal service connecting outlying smaller communities to Hwy16 centres where on-going transportation options do exist.
“A number of people are not 9 to 5 commuters either,” Cordeiro added. “And if there is no service in the evening then for young people, for example, and this is primarily for First Nations communities, they can’t take part in school or sports activities after 5 p.m.,” Cordeiro said.
“On the part of the health authorities, lack of transportation then becomes a determinant for wellness. Poor transport can equal poor health.”
The councillor noted that although the transportation ministry can provide highways on which to travel, it becomes a matter of providing ways in which people can now use those highways.
The relative lack of a northwest transit service providing safe and reliable transportation has often been cited as reasons why people hitchhike along Hwy16 and also cited in connection with the number of missing and murdered mostly-aboriginal women along the highway.
Cordeiro said there’s a delicate balance to be struck when it comes to reducing the number of people who hitchhike.
One suggestion, that of hitchhikers taking a photo with a smartphone of the licence plate of the vehicle that has stopped for them and then sending it onwards, might be something to consider, he said.
“[But] by reducing harm you’re not wanting to encourage [hitchhiking] by taking steps to make it safer,” Cordeiro said.
Following the Smithers meeting, transportation minister Todd Stone, who did not attend, promised action.
“We’re now going to turn the discussions into action and to work on a plan that provides an effective model for transportation along the highway as quickly as possible,” he said.
There was no timeline provided nor an indication if any plan would be developed in time to incorporate into the province’s next budget year which begins April 1, 2016