The province announced a new $3 million program on Wednesday to expand shuttle bus services in Northern B.C.

The community shuttle funding program will replace the existing community transportation grant program, ending on March 31st, 2022, and will be administered by Northern Development Initiative Trust (NDIT).

The organization began accepting applications on November 15th, which is open to local governments, First Nations, community organizations, non-profit groups and small to medium-sized businesses.

The Ministry of Transportation says applicants can apply for up to $200,000 to cover the costs of introducing, expanding or continuing passenger transportation services in a service area for as long as three years.

“Safe, reliable public transportation options provide vital links between rural and remote communities in B.C.’s North,” said Rob Fleming, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure. “Our government recognizes the importance of developing sustainable solutions for integrated transportation services in northern B.C. and throughout the province.”

The announcement comes after a report released from the Office of the Auditor General, stating 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 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.

A gap in service has been evident for three years as B.C. 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.

Northern B.C. is a vast and vibrant place with residents living in many remote and rural communities. Dependable and affordable transportation options are necessary to allow people of all ages to safely travel to access health care, services, education and employment,” said Joel McKay, chief executive officer, NDIT.

“Reliable transportation also plays a significant role in allowing people to attend social activities, reducing feelings of isolation and building a strong sense of community.”

The new funding is a part of a $7.9-million Safe Restart grant provided this year by the federal and provincial governments to help address the need for public transportation in rural and remote communities in northern B.C.

Funding decisions are expected to be made in early 2022 following the application deadline of 5 p.m. on December 23rd.