BBC reality show contestants dumbfounded by British Columbia's poor public transit

Apr 10 2023, 8:21 pm

“Do you have any recommendations on how we get to Prince Rupert via Whistler?” said one contestant while onboard a shuttle on the Sea to Sky Highway.

“Still in Whistler, Zainib and Mobeen can no longer avoid the inevitable… how to head north without public transport?” said the narrator grimly.

“I was under the impression we were going to just be able to switch and get on another bus and go to Victoria,” said another contestant on Vancouver Island.

“The only transportation we have today is at 1 pm, and the next one is not until Saturday,” said a bus terminal clerk.

These were just some of the comments contestants made in the first episode of the third season of BBC’s Race Across the World reality show, which recently premiered.

This season started at Prospect Point in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, with the episode challenging teams to reach Haida Gwaii in a travel adventure competition similar to The Amazing Race. The final point of this season’s tour across Canada will be St. Johns’s in Newfoundland.

But the contestants appeared to be completely flabbergasted by the lack of bus options linking communities in BC — very much unlike the bus and passenger rail networks they are accustomed to in the United Kingdom.

The lack of bus options across the province considerably slowed down their ability to reach the first episode’s final checkpoint at the Haida House in Tlell on Haida Gwaii.

Prince Rupert was an important destination for the contestants for reaching Haida Gwaii, as that is where they can attempt to take a ferry or boat ride to Haida Gwaii.

Some of the contestants were looking to get to Prince Rupert from the mainland by road, such as travelling north of Whistler, while others took the route on Vancouver Island in an attempt to reach the Port Hardy ferry terminal for sailings to Prince Rupert.

With all that said, Race Across the World contestants have one arm tied behind their backs in their journeys — they are not allowed to use a smartphone, nor can they fly to their destination, but they can use their limited funds to travel by land and sea.

While the provincial government operates BC Transit, its public transit bus services are focused on communities and regions and not intercity and interregional services.

Greyhound’s departure from BC in 2018 continues to leave a tremendous void in intercity and interregional bus services.

The private Ebus service and the provincial government’s BC Bus North launched shortly after Greyhound terminated its services in the province, but they have been unable to come near matching the previous routes and service levels offered by Greyhound.

A recent report by BC’s auditor generator found that publicly funded replacement services provided by BC Bus North only covered 56% of the stops Greyhound made. Currently, BC Bus North’s routes run as infrequently as only twice per week.

Private operators have been able to fill the service gap on the Sea to Sky Highway reaching Whistler comparatively better than other remote communities, with Skylynx, Whistler Shuttle, and Epic Rides expanding their services on this particular corridor following the withdrawal of Greyhound.

For years, there have been calls for the provincial government to launch interregional public transit bus services along the Sea to Sky Highway, connecting Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton. BC Transit completed a study in 2017, which found there would be more than sufficient ridership to support a public transit bus system between downtown Vancouver and Whistler, with major stops at Horseshoe Bay and Squamish. TransLink’s Transport 2050 plan also calls for new and improved interregional bus services north along the Sea to Sky Corridor and east into the Fraser Valley.

The former BC Rail network operated by the provincial government previously provided passenger rail services along the railway corridor that roughly follows the Sea to Sky Highway.

And up until 2011, VIA Rail operated a north-south passenger rail service on Vancouver Island from downtown Victoria to as far north as Courtenay. The provincial government recently announced $18 million in funding to perform planning work on the future of this railway corridor and emphasized the importance of preserving it for transportation uses.

While there are no plans for improved interregional transit connections by road and rail in the foreseeable future, some private operators are looking to start new interregional services by water.

In Summer 2023, Vancouver Island Ferry Company is expected to launch a high-speed catamaran passenger service between downtown Vancouver and Nanaimo. It will make at least several roundtrips daily using two vessels.

Greenline Ferries is also looking to launch a new frequent passenger-only ferry service linking downtown Vancouver with Bowen Island and the Sunshine Coast by 2025, using battery-electric catamaran passenger vessels.

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