The Northern Health Authority has joined the provincial government in filling the void left by the departure of the Greyhound bus service between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
Apart from the provincially-financed replacement twice-weekly service BC Bus North that started operating on June 4, Northern Health has expanded the eligibility of those who can ride its Northern Connections buses that travel between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
Now passengers with mobility challenges, passengers 60 years or older and passengers who have to travel to support immediate family members who are receiving health care treatment or services outside of their home community can use the service.
With both services running, 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 new provincial bus service runs two days a week, leaving Prince George westbound on Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m., arriving at the Town Pantry here at 11: 45 a.m. and departing again at 11:55 a.m. to finish its run in Prince Rupert at 7:50 p.m. with stops in between.
The bus leaves Prince Rupert Fridays and Sundays, also at 8 a.m., arriving in Burns Lake at 4 p.m. for a 4:10 p.m. departure to Prince George, arriving there at 7:50 p.m.
A one-way fare from Burns Lake to Prince George, for example, is $35 and it is $45 from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
Northern Connections buses run west from Prince George to Prince Rupert Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, leaving Prince George at 8 a.m. and arriving at the Town Pantry in Burns Lake at 11 a.m. before departing five minutes later.
From Prince Rupert, the Northern Connections bus leaves Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 a.m., arriving in Burns Lake at 3:50 p.m. for a departure onward to Prince George five minutes later.
While the new provincial bus fares are either $35 or $45 depending upon length of travel, the Northern Connections fares are cheaper — $10 for a one-way fare from Burns Lake to Prince George or $20 for a one-way fare from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
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 wanting to travel via Northern Connections have to reserve 24 hours in advance and the service priority will remain for people travelling for medical appointments.
And that means there could be times when passengers meeting the new eligibility criteria can’t be accommodated.