Community of Gingolx driver Fraser Doolan makes a regular transit run from the village at the mouth of the Nass River through the Nass Valley and down to Terrace. There's a proposal now to set up a north-wide transit booking system to make it easier for people to book riders on the wide variety of transit services available in the region. (Staff photo)

Booking service proposed for northern transportation services

Would greatly assist passengers by reducing confusion, frustration

A Prince George-based economic development agency wants to adapt a European-developed online booking system for passengers using the myriad of transit services in northern B.C.

From nearly 20 First Nations and community groups to BC Transit to the provincially-owned BC Bus service, a number of transit options, mostly financed by the provincial government, surfaced when Greyhound cut its service to northern communities four years ago.

The services either connect smaller communities to neighbouring larger ones or are meant to span the expanse of the north.

But what’s lacking, says the Northern Development Initiative Trust, is an integrated passenger booking system.

“Residents need to act as their own travel agents when they want to travel between multiple communities using bus services, resulting in confusion, frustration and decreased use of existing services,” the Trust outlines in a request sent to northern local governments seeking support for the project.

What’s proposed is “an app that can be downloaded and used on an smartphone as well as a website, call centre support and public information campaign,” the trust continued.

“Northern Development sees this lack of technology as a key economic barrier for people movement in the region, making it more difficult for residents to locate to or continue to live in small, isolated communities.

While the trust says the service would be financially sustainable once up and running, money’s needed to get it going.

Anna Duff, who speaks for Northern Development, said there’d be no charge for the smaller community groups and First Nations who have received money from the province via the agency.

The latest round of money, $2.8 million, went to 18 groups and First Nations in March, including the Village of Granisle for service to Houston and Burns Lake, the Dze L’Kant Friendship Centre Society for service connecting Houston to Telkwa and Smithers and to Gingolx in the Nass Valley for service to Terrace.

“Other service providers will be able to join the booking system for a fee. Joining the booking system may conceivably increase overall bookings for most services as they will be easier to find and integrated into the overall network, justifying the fee to join,” said Duff.

BC Transit provides service between communities, including a Hazelton to Terrace run and a Houston to Smithers route.

And the provincial government’s BC Bus North service provides long distance services, connecting Prince Rupert to Prince George twice a week.

Also providing a northern transit service is the Northern Health Authority through its Northern Connections buses connecting passengers with medical appointments to the appropriate facilities and services.

Its service options expanded several years ago so that anyone over 60 can ride a Northern Connections bus.

The Northern Development Initiative Trust has asked the District of Houston council, among other local governments in the region, for a support letter in hopes of convincing the provincial transportation ministry to share development costs.