Regional transit focus of northwestern B.C. MLA

Robin Austin says he'll be pressing the provincial goverment for improvements

  • Feb. 19, 2016 6:00 p.m.

SKEENA NDP MLA Robin Austin says he will be pressing the provincial government to follow through on its commitment to boost regional transit.

He is zeroing in on the existing BC Transit Skeena Connector service between Kitamaat Village/Kitimat and Terrace as an example.

Started in the last decade, the weekday-only service also runs east on Hwy16 to the Gitaus subdivision and west to New Remo.

It is financed by BC Transit, the Terrace and Kitimat municipal governments, the Kitimat-Stikine regional district and the First Nations governments of Kitaamat, Kitsumkalum and Kitselas.

Because it is one way for medical patients to travel back and forth between communities, the Northern Health Authority also signed on and at the beginning was providing nearly 60 per cent of the operating costs.

That figure reflected, in part, the health authority agreeing to pick up some of a BC Transit shortfall because its budget was frozen when the service was introduced.

But the health authority, citing the need to balance its Skeena Connector spending with other transportation commitments under its Northern Connections transportation program, has been gradually reducing its annual subsidy – from nearly $187,000 in 2009 to $160,000 and then to $80,000 as of this year.

The result is that local governments are now having to pay more to maintain the service because of the health authority reduction.

That has drawn Austin’s attention because the province has made a commitment to put more money into northwestern B.C. regional transit beginning this year.

“The province has said it will be increasing transit spending. But here it looks like it is giving with one hand but then taking away with the other,” he said.

The promise by the province to increase regional transit is part of a $3 million plan to improve transportation services connecting communities along Hwy16.

It was announced late last year in response to continued calls for reliable and safe transportation along Hwy16 and is to play out over the next several years. Within that $3 million is the commitment to spend $1.6 million over the next two years to maintain or increase transit along the northwestern portion of Hwy16.

Austin noted that calls for more regional transit were first made nearly 10 years ago at a Prince George symposium held in response to the numbers of missing and murdered women along Hwy16.

“And it was even mentioned in Wally Oppal’s report and that was in 2012,” said Austin of the former provincial attorney-general’s inquiry of how police handled the investigation into murdered and missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

No decisions on how the $3 million is to be spent have been made but, based on comments made from transportation minister Todd Stone, details are to be released this spring.

Northern Health Authority official Jonathon Dyck said the phased-in reduction of its annual Skeena Connector payments began several years ago.

He added that the new annual figure of $80,000 matches what it provides for similar medical patient travel services elsewhere.

“On Haida Gwaii we have a partnership for service between Queen Charlotte and Masset and that’s at $80,000,” said Dyck of a subsidy provided.

“Wherever we can, we work with partners,” he said.