Three years since bringing in the BC Bus North program, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is still working on a long-term transportation plan, according to a new report by the Office of the Auditor-General.

Greyhound Canada withdrew bus service in our region during 2018 and no other private company has come forward since that time to fill the void.

In June of that year, the ministry directed BC Transit to provide a 12-month bus service – BC Bus North – while the ministry said it would work with communities to find a long-term solution.

According to the report, interim funding for the service has been extended three times – the most recent one announced in March of this year.

“Northern B.C. is an area larger than the entire country of France and the bus is a lifeline for many residents in places like Prince George, Prince Rupert, Fort Nelson, and Valemount,” said Michael Pickup, auditor general.

“People depend on the bus to get to jobs in other communities, access essential services like health care, go to school, or visit family and friends.”

In its report, Ensuring Long-distance Ground Transportation in Northern B.C., Pickup and his office finds that the ministry ensured BC Transit delivered interim services to half of the former Greyhound stops near communities and is working on a province-wide intercity ground transportation plan.

However, it is not clear how this work will address the needs of northern residents.

“The ministry has made progress in its planning but needs to make clear how its province-wide plan will support northern B.C. specifically,” Pickup said.

“Northern regions have particular transportation needs – the distances are vast, roads can be treacherous and alternatives are few. People’s livelihoods are on the line. I hope the ministry will consult with northern residents to ensure that the plan meets the unique needs of the region.”

Furthermore, the report states BC Bus North did not replace a short-route from Prince George to Fort Saint James because another transportation service was available. The decision impacted eight stops near communities.

In addition, the ministry signed an agreement with Northern Development Initiative Trust to administer a funding program for northern transportation services, aided by $7.9 million from the
provincial and federal governments.

Applicants apply for money to operate transportation services, like a long-haul coach and/or smaller
community shuttle services.

Eligible applicants include small-to-medium size companies, First Nations, local government, and non-profits. The agreement does not state that the trust will ensure BC Bus North continues.

However, both the trust and the ministry said there is an expectation that long-haul coach service will be provided
through the funding program.

The trust said it would work to ensure there is no gap in intercity bus service while the new program is established.

The funding agreement between the ministry and the trust runs until March 2026

The audit also found:

* BC Bus North routes reach 35 of the 62 stops near communities that Greyhound served.

* Trips are less frequent, reduced to once or twice a week, compared to the daily trips on most Greyhound routes.

* Fares are lower than Greyhound’s were.

* The ministry has done some community engagement on the bus service and community needs, with broader consultation limited by pandemic restrictions.

* The ministry monitored financial data, but not all of the reports that it was supposed to.

To view a link to the full report, click here.