A new report by the Office of the Auditor General says Northern B.C. is still without a long-term transportation plan three years after Greyhound stopped serving the region.

BC Bus North was announced in June 2018 as a temporary service with a 12-month life span while the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure came up with a plan for the long-term. The service is still operating, and its funding has been extended three times, according to the report, Ensuring Long-distance Ground Transportation in Northern B.C., released on Tuesday.

A gap in service has been evident for three years as BC Bus North only took over just under half of Greyhound’s routes, reaching 35 of 62 stops. The frequency in which busses run has gone down as well, dropping to one or two trips a week instead of daily as was common on Greyhound routes.

The report shows that the ministry is actively working on a province-wide intercity ground transportation plan, however, details on how it will serve as a solution in the north are unclear.

Northern B.C. is an area larger than the entire country of France and the bus is a lifeline for many residents in places like Prince George, Prince Rupert, Fort Nelson, and Valemount,” said Michael Pickup, auditor general, in a release. “People depend on the bus to get to jobs in other communities, access essential services like health care, go to school, or visit family and friends.”

The ministry accepted the three recommendations included in the report for better monitoring of the delivery of interim bus services, engaging with northern communities, and presenting options for sustainable solutions in Northern B.C.

“The ministry has made progress in its planning but needs to make clear how its province-wide plan will support northern B.C. specifically,” said Pickup. “Northern regions have particular transportation needs – the distances are vast, roads can be treacherous and alternatives are few. People’s livelihoods are on the line. I hope the ministry will consult with northern residents to ensure that the plan meets the unique needs of the region.”

The ministry ensured BC Transit collaborated with Northern Health transportation providers the interim service covered half the stops Greyhound served but can improve its monitoring, according to the audit. The report states financial data was monitored, but that wasn’t the case for all passenger and service data required under agreements.

Some engagement on community needs was conducted by the ministry, but broader consultation was limited by pandemic restrictions.

The audit also found BC Bus North fares were around 50 per cent less than Greyhound.