SMITHERS, B.C. – A new bus service between Smithers and the First Nations village of Moricetown in northwestern B.C. will only take about 30 minutes, but the ride along the so-called Highway of Tears has been years in the making.
The service that starts Monday is along a small section of Highway 16, the route that stretches between Prince George and Prince Rupert where 18 women have disappeared or been murdered since the 1970s.
John Rustad, B.C.’s minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation, says part of the service plan involves working with First Nations communities to train bus drivers and operate transit services between their villages and major communities along the highway.
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First Nations, social-service agencies and women’s groups have been calling for a shuttle bus service in the area for several years to provide safe transportation for people who live in communities along the 750-kilometre route.
Moricetown Band Chief Duane Mitchell says the community is excited about the opportunity for safe and reliable transportation for their membership.
The federal and provincial governments announced a $5 million transportation plan last year that aims to improve travel and safety options along the highway and to the many remote First Nations communities in the area.
Rustad, who was in Smithers for the bus announcement on Friday, says the transit plan was a long time in coming.
He says further bus route expansion announcements are planned for the coming months.
“There’s a real challenge in trying to provide the standard type of transit option that we think about when we think of Vancouver or Victoria,” Rustad says.
“I know there are a lot of people who would have liked to have seen this happen more quickly, but working with families and communities to make sure we get this right was important.”
Rustad says his Nechako Lakes riding in north central B.C. represents a 280-kilometre stretch of Highway 16 and includes the communities of Vanderhoof, Burns Lake and Houston.
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach says in a news release that the council is thrilled to see the new service.
“Not only will it help ensure the safety of residents travelling between our communities, it also marks the first partnership of its kind between the Moricetown Band and Smithers.”