The bus provides an essential link for many people in the community (Caitlin Thompson)

The bus provides an essential link for many people in the community (Caitlin Thompson)

Bella Coola Bus Company looking for drivers

The bus service is an essential link for many in the community

If you haven’t ridden the Bella Coola Bus yet, chances are pretty good you’ve seen it on one of its many trips up and down the valley. The Bella Coola Bus Company, now in it’s 14th year, provides the much-needed and popular service for valley residents who don’t have their own transportation.

“What really makes our service so good is our drivers,” explained Barb Cornish, who operates Bella Coola Valley Bus Company with her husband, Joe Hinke. “They are simply wonderful and always make sure the passengers are well taken care of.”

The bus runs from 7:30am to 6:30pm Monday to Saturday and has also been running on Sundays to transport passengers to the Farmer’s Market during the summer months. It is available for special events in the community, such as rodeo and Rudolph Rock, and it is also used by the school district to transport students when required.

The transit service is funded by the Central Coast Regional Hospital District in partnership with BC Transit. Decisions on fares, routes and service levels are made by the Hospital District Board based on public feedback and information provided by BC Transit.

The service is operated by the Bella Coola Valley Bus Co. Ltd. and operating costs are met by a combination of farebox revenues and joint district and provincial funding. It costs $2.50 per ride, or passengers can buy a daily or monthly pass. When you consider the cost of insurance and gas, $2.5o for a ride from Firvale to Bella Coola is a steal of a deal!

The bus operates mostly on a “dial-a-ride” service (passengers are required to phone 24hours ahead of time to book a ride) but sticks to a schedule that revolves around hospital trips as they are a priority. This service is available to anyone in the community, and passengers can either book a trip ahead or flag the bus down.

There is door-to-door service for people with a disability and community-to-community service for others. Passengers are also able to flag the bus down if they are in a safe location where it can pull over.

“From December 2018 to December 2019 we had almost 25,000 riders on the bus,” said Cornish. “It’s a service that’s growing and we need more drivers to keep up.”

The service first started in 2006 and has been steadily growing every year. The growth of the tourist sector is expected to push the demand up even more, and the company has been struggling to keep up.

“When we first started BC Transit thought we would average around two passengers per hour,” explained Hinke. “Right off the bat we were averaging four per hour and now it has grown to seven per hour. We are currently doubling the number of passengers other similar communities are seeing on their transit systems.”

Both Hinke and Cornish see a direct correlation in the popularity of the service with their dedicated drivers, of whom they are extremely proud. Both regular drivers, David Robson and Jim Dixon, have always gone the extra mile (no pun intended!) to ensure passengers are taken care of, and it shows.

“We have written to BC Transit to express how special our drivers are,” said Cornish. “They are truly incredible and absolutely make the service what it is.”

Both drivers have been personally involved with helping passengers in life-threatening situations where their actions almost certainly saved lives. Having such close connections to the community and their passengers, they are often the first to notice when riders don’t seem quite right.

Robson once pulled a resident to safety from a burning home, and Dixon was directly responsible for ensuring and elderly passenger got the medical care they desperately needed.

Cornish said that Robson, who is particularly familiar with many of his passengers having grown up in the valley, says that many of them are happy to remind him of his antics as a small boy.

“Dave is a friend to his riders and he knows when they are having good days and bad ones,” said Cornish. “He thinks nothing of inviting riders he knows will be home alone for Christmas to his house with his family for turkey dinner, picking them up and then driving them home.”

In a particularly memorable story, Robson went to pick up an elderly passenger who didn’t come to the door. Sensing something was wrong he went into the house to find that the gentleman (in his 90s at the time) had suffered a fall. Apparently the man had “whacked a cougar on the head with a piece of firewood on his porch sometime before” and had a chip of cougar tooth still embedded in his thigh. Once this was found on the x-ray the gentleman explained the situation to the medical staff, who treated him for an infection caused by the tooth.

“It’s never boring!” said Robson.

Drivers are required to have a Class 4 (unrestricted) drivers licence which will allow them to drive buses with a maximum seating capacity of 25 persons (including the driver), including school buses, special activity buses and special vehicles used to transport people with disabilities.

“We are facing the same challenges finding drivers as the school district and other businesses in the valley,” said Hinke. “Many times there simply aren’t enough people to fill the need.”

James Taylor, manager with Pacific Coastal, agrees.

“We definitely have periods of the year when getting hold a driver can be a challenge,” he said. “We always welcome any qualified drivers who may be interested in working for us. They can contact me at 250 982 2225.”

Getting your Class 4 is possible in Bella Coola. To qualify you must be 19 years of age, have a minimum of two years of non-learner driving experience, have fewer than four offences that resulted in penalty points and no motor vehicle-related Criminal Code convictions.

“If anyone out there is holding a Class 4 license or willing to get one, please contact Joe Hinke,” said Hinke. “We value and honour our drivers. Ultimately, the care and dedication of our bus drivers is what makes the service the best it can be.”

Robson, who has been with company since the beginning, says his favourite part of the job is the people.

“For sure it’s the passengers, especially when they’re in a good mood!” he jokes.

“We’re an essential link for them,” Robson continued. “Some of them wouldn’t even get out of their homes if it wasn’t for the bus. It’s a really important service for the community.”

For more information on becoming a driver you can call Joe Hinke at 250 799 5274. To get a ride on the bus you can call 250 799 0079 and leave a message.