VANCOUVER — Via Rail has joined discussions with the British Columbia government, First Nations and social service agencies to offer rock-bottom fares to "vulnerable'' people who can't afford to travel along the so-called Highway of Tears.
The railway is collaborating with mayors and multiple groups to determine the criteria for $5 fares along a northern B.C. corridor where 18 girls and women have been murdered or have disappeared since the 1970s.
In June, following a decade of pleas from women's groups and First Nations, B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone announced that bus service would begin in the area by the end of the year.
Chief Joseph Bevan of the Kitselas First Nation near Terrace said he's part of an advisory group concerned about the safety of people along the 750-kilometre route and that it came together for regular meetings last November after months of discussions.
Via Rail is in talks with the British Columbia government, First Nations, and social services agencies to help 'vulnerable' people travel along the province's so-called 'Highway of Tears'. (Photo: Canadian Press)
He said it's common for people to take a risk and hitchhike in the notorious area because they're too poor to take the train or a Greyhound bus.
"It's non-aboriginals as well. It's everyone who is on social assistance, people with disabilities, who are having trouble moving around. It makes them vulnerable when they're jumping into a vehicle with somebody else.''
Bevan said that at a meeting in March, a Via Rail official made the proposal to offer a $5 fare along the highway that stretches between Prince Rupert and Prince George.
"It's non-aboriginals as well. It's everyone who is on social assistance, people with disabilities, who are having trouble moving around."
Michael Woelcke, the railway's general manager for remote services, said in minutes of the meeting held in Prince George on March 30 that the company would offer the low fare "regardless of origin or destination along the route.''
He said Via Rail provides train service three times a week between Prince Rupert and Prince George, and it's open to suggestions on determining eligibility for the $5 fare that would be available to "at risk'' and "vulnerable'' people including youth and "elders.''
"We need to identify who would qualify for this program, as we cannot provide everyone with these reduced fares,'' he said in the minutes.
Woelcke said a minimum $75 one-way fare would be reduced by a third for aboriginal passengers.
Woelcke was not available for comment, and the company said an official would provide details if and when an arrangement is worked out with the province.
Via Rail said in an emailed statement that a discounted fare for "vulnerable'' people is one of the options being studied and that discussions with the Transportation Ministry and the advisory group are ongoing.
Highway 16 near Prince George, B.C. is shown on Oct. 8, 2012. (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/Canadian Press)
The ministry said interconnectivity of services along Highway 16 has been part of discussions and that Via Rail was included to determine what role it could play to increase transportation options.
"We continue to engage with Via Rail on the idea of offering a discounted train fare to vulnerable First Nations people,'' the ministry said.
The group is slated to meet again next month.
As for the promised new bus service between Prince George and Prince Rupert, the ministry said the first of more than 20 public information sessions hosted by BC Transit will start Saturday.
BC Transit said Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which is part of the advisory group, has provided $1 million in funding for features including enhanced bus stop shelters and CCTV cameras to ensure passengers' safety along the corridor.
The route provides the main transportation link to and from remote First Nations villages located off the main highway.
Most of the cases of murdered and missing women remain unsolved, but police have said it's believed that more than one killer is involved.
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Age: 19 Last Seen: Oct. 19, 1973 in Clearwater. Body found April 6, 1974 along Yellowhead Highway. Believed hitchhiking to Kamloops.
Age: 16 Last seen: Aug. 9, 1974 near Lac La Hache. Body found Sept. 5, 1974 near 100 Mile House. Was believed to be hitchhiking. RCMP have determined through DNA testing that Bobby Jack Fowler was responsible for her death.
Age: 19 Last Seen: Nov. 6, 1973 in Kamloops. Body found Nov. 7, 1973 in a city park. Believed to be hitchhiking at the time.
Age: 19 Last Seen: Oct. 7, 1995 at a service station in Thornhill, B.C.
Age: 16 Last Seen: June 14, 1990, along Highway 16 in Smithers.
Age: 25 Last Seen: June 21, 2002 in Prince George. Believed to be hitchhiking on Highway 16.
Age: 22 Last Seen: Sept. 21, 2005 in Prince Rupert. Believed to be hitchhiking on Highway 16.
Age: 24 Last Seen: Aug. 26, 1989 in Prince Rupert. Body found Sept. 16, 1989 on Highway 16.
Age: 16 Last Seen: June 11, 1994, hitchhiking to a friend's home in Smithers. Body found April 1995, Smithers Airport.
Age: 15 Last Seen: Nov. 1994 in Prince George. Body found near Burns Lake.
Age: 15 Her body was found Dec. 9, 1994.
Last Seen: 1989
Age: 14 Last Seen: Dec. 13, 1974 in Thornhill, B.C. Body found Apr. 6, 1975 near Terrace.
Age: 14 Last Seen: Feb. 2, 2006 in Prince George. Body found Feb. 10, 2006 on Highway 16.
Age: 27 Last Seen: Oct. 25, 1969 in Williams Lake. Body found Oct. 26 1969.
Age: 18 Last Seen: July 1970 along Fort St. John/Hudson's Hope Highway. Body found Aug. 8, 1970 near Hudson's Hope. Last seen hitchhiking to a ranch.
Age: 16 Last Seen: May 3, 1983 near Hinton, Alberta. Seen walking along Highway 16.
Age: 12 Last Seen: May 6, 1978 near Nicola Lake. Body found in June 1995 north of Merritt.
Age: 33 Last Seen: May 8, 1981 in Salmon Arm. Body found May 9, 1981 near Kamloops. Believed to have been hitchhiking.