Safe, Accessible and Affordable Public Transit Can Save Lives

@FMWC was tagged in this tweet. I wondered if I missed something somewhere as I searched the feed for something that could have precipitated the comment.  I started to wonder…. Is that a rhetorical question or is there an answer? Well, of course there is.

Safe, accessible, and affordable public transportation.

The “Highway of Tears” refers to Highway 6, in northern British Columbia, a stretch of road known for its isolation and notorious for the high number of indigenous women who have gone missing along the route over decades: at least 18 women according to the RCMP; closer to 50 according to the Indigenous community.

First Nations along Highway 6 had been advocating for a bus service since at least 2006 before two new bus routes began regular service between Smithers and Prince George in June 2017. By February 2018, over 5,000 people have used the service. And despite the success in take-up, critics argue the service is patch-work and more is needed to address the issue of rural isolation and safety for women.

It’s not enough to have access to the bus or the train, it has to be affordable too.

The typical bus passenger tends to the lower income range, as bus travel is the most economical mode of transportation, if planned effectively. Train travel is more expensive, and even less available as passenger lines have been reduced significantly over the years. Via Rail operates a train and talk was of a $5 subsidized fare for vulnerable passengers. But if you don’t have any money, it doesn’t matter how much it costs. It’s cheaper to put out your thumb and take your chances. You might find someone you know…

As a result of the success of the subsidized BC Transit lines, Greyhound Canada has requested regulatory approval to cancel their line from Prince George to Prince Rupert, claiming it is no longer feasible to continue operations. If successful, northwest BC will lose what service they do have, until BC Transit fills the space. Sometimes, it seems like progress takes two steps forward, then one step back.

The Northern Health Authority provides a bus service to get people to their appointments, however, it doesn’t serve the needs of many who require transportation to visit family and friends, buy groceries and supplies, or otherwise improve their quality of life.

The Highway of Tears is just one example, Canada’s worst example, of the danger to women in the absence of secure and affordable transportation and illustrates in sharp relief the importance of public transit to public health.

In addition to affordable, accessible, secure and reliable public transportation, travelling women can benefit from advances in technology:

  • An app that tracks travellers – smart phones possess Global Positioning Service – GPS – which can be used to track traveller movements, similar to the technology used to track parcel delivery
  • A ride sharing service eg Uber for the north
  • Better monitoring / surveillance – roadside cameras, satellite surveillance, an “eye in the sky” to help deter criminal behaviour and monitor activity in remote locations
  • DriveHer service – ride-sharing service specifically for women
  • Sex trafficking awareness training – bus and train stations are prime locations for sex traffickers to target vulnerable women. Training transit and rail workers to identify and appropriately address suspected trafficking situations can save lives

Canada is such a big country and so much of it remains inaccessible, especially in the north. People who live in rural and remote communities are disadvantaged in accessing urban-based health services due to transportation limitations. There are solutions; all that is needed is political will and public support to see their implementation.

What can we do to ensure that public transit remains a top priority in government infrastructure planning? How can we find innovative and equitable means of financing public transit, especially in remote and rural communities?



B.C. announces bus service for Highway of Tears