Effective October 1, 2014, there will be changes implemented to bus routes experiencing low demand, including the Prince George – Fort St John bus, which will now operate two days per week instead of three.

Meanwhile, the Fort Nelson – Dawson Creek bus will leave Tuesdays and return Thursdays, providing service one day per week instead of two.

Another change is in regard to the Mackenzie – Prince George bus, which will now operate one day per week (Wednesdays).

“This is a unique service that is offered to ensure all northerners have access to health care services,” said Reina Pharness, Northern Health manager of external contracts. “The planning for this service is ongoing and very much dependent on the usage; we do modify, increase and reduce service depending on the demand.”

The Connections bus service began in 2006 and is operated on behalf of Northern Health by Diversified Transportation.

The fleet includes six coaches and five minibuses for both short and long-haul routes. All buses are wheelchair accessible; the coaches offer four wheelchair spaces while the minibuses have two. The coaches also have wheelchair-accessible washrooms for longer trips.

“The Northern Health Connections health care travel service is essential for patients in the north to get to and from out-of-town medical appointments,” said Shirley Bond, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skill Training, and MLA for Prince George-Valemount.  “Having an affordable, reliable travel system helps relieve stress for patients who can then focus on the important piece, their health.”

The service has had annual growth since its inception, despite declining usage on some routes, with ridership increasing by three per cent in 2013 to more than 13,000 passengers, according to Northern Health.

““Updating the Northern Health Connections fleet shows our government’s commitment to providing affordable transportation options for patients in rural areas who have out-of-town health care appointments,” said Mike Morris, Prince George-Mackenzie MLA.

In fall 2014, enhancements to the bus service will include a new online booking system that will complement the call-in line 1-888-647-4997; GPS tracking devices, available online and mobile friendly that will allow friends and families of passengers to track the location of their loved ones using their smartphones.

Short-haul routes on the Northern Health Connections bus service start at $20.00 round trip.

Information on routes, booking, and rates is available at northernhealth.ca.