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Let’s Ride! Citizens’ group calls for public transportation service

BY PETER EWART AND DAWN HEMINGWAY

In the last 40 years or so, what is often called “neo-liberalism” has come to dominate the thinking and policies of governments in Canada, the U.S. and other countries.  This has meant massive bailouts of financial institutions and corporations, outsourcing of jobs, as well as deregulation, privatization and cuts to public services.  The result has been the stagnation of wages and deterioration of living conditions for many Canadians. 

The advent of neo-liberalism has also meant the spread of a “fend for yourself” ideology, the results being a sharp rise in homelessness everywhere and a crisis in health care and other social services, as has been starkly revealed in the COVID-19 epidemic.

One of the areas hit the hardest by this ideology has been public transportation, especially in rural and remote areas of British Columbia.  Years ago, BC Rail used to have passenger service from North Vancouver deep into the Interior of the province.  For its part, Greyhound also had a web of bus lines connecting communities in the province. 

Today, BC Rail has long since been privatized and the passenger service eliminated, while Greyhound has abandoned its bus service not only in B.C. but across Canada. Many small communities do not even have a taxi service.

This “fend for yourself” ideology has caused serious problems for residents in small communities, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who need to access medical appointments and other needed services in larger centres. In many cases, people have to stay over in hotels for several days waiting to board the next bus home (if there is one) or rely on friends and family to provide transportation in what can be difficult winter conditions. 

Similar transportation problems exist for students and people who hold jobs outside their hometowns.  In addition, the growing number of seniors who can no longer drive end up trapped in their communities and are not able to maintain connections with family and friends or access health services and other necessities not available in their home locations.  Some have been forced to rely on hitchhiking which has resulted in such terrible tragedies as the missing and murdered women on the Highway of Tears.  Compounding these significant challenges, there are the problems of excessive costs, as well as difficulties in some places with the transferability of tickets when multiple private transportation services must be utilized.

Across the province, a number of privately and provincially funded busing operations exist and funding for others has been put in place by the provincial government.  But many smaller communities still get inadequate service or none at all whether it is in the Interior or North or Vancouver Island.

In response to this situation, some residents of British Columbia have taken the initiative and sprung into action.  They have formed an organization, “Let’s Ride! – Make Public Transit BC Wide,” and are calling for a province-wide publicly-owned transportation service that could eventually link up with a national service.

Let’s Ride! argues that the current transportation system does not “adequately address the safety concerns or social needs of our citizens, many of whom live in rural areas, small municipalities or remote communities.” It further points out that instead “transit across BC is a patchwork of good service, poor service and no service at all, depending on where you live.  Reliance on private companies to provide transit services has left [people] stranded when those companies shut down or move on.”  What is needed is “a unified inter-community network that will guarantee all British Columbians access to the rest of the province.” 

If you wish to learn more about Let’s Ride! or would like to get involved, its email is: publictransitbcwide@gmail.com and its website can be accessed at: LET’S RIDE! Make Public Transit BC Wide – Campaign for safe, affordable, quality public bus service (bcwidebus.com).  Its Facebook page is: https://www.facebook.com/Lets-Ride-Public-Transit-BC-Wide-110672350618662

In addition, the group has put forward a petition to the federal Parliament calling upon the Government of Canada “to create or empower a national public corporation to provide transportation by bus and rail to Canadians, with the mission of connecting all communities within every province and territory with safe, affordable, accessible, resilient, and integrated service.”  The petition is being sponsored by Taylor Bachrach, NDP member of Parliament for Skeena-Bulkley Valley, and is open for signature until March 9, 2022.  To sign the petition, go to: https://petitions.ourcommons.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-3723

Peter Ewart and Dawn Hemingway are writers and community activists based in Prince George, British Columbia.  They can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca or dehemingway49@gmail.com.

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