Seniors 60 and over and people with mobility issues can now ride a Northern Health bus even when they aren’t travelling for a healthcare appointment.
Northern Health is also making it easier for companions to join those who are travelling for healthcare reasons.
Steve Raper, chief of communications for Northern Health, said the changes will help the many northern B.C. seniors and people with mobility issues who lack affordable transportation options.
“It really is about long-term health and wellbeing,” Raper said.
“We feel it’s going to make a marked difference in keeping people healthy in their homes longer, and in their communities.”
The new rules also allow for two, and in some cases more companions to ride along with a medical traveller on a Northern Health bus. Raper said that change should make things easier for families who don’t have childcare, for example.
Also, companions can now travel separately from a medical traveller if they are going to visit them.
“We’ve expanded the eligibility beyond simply being a travel companion, recognizing that social networks and social support from an immediate family member is critical in the recovery process,” Raper said.
The expanded criteria apply to all the Northern Health Connections bus routes, such as the $20 service between Prince Rupert and Prince George, and the $40 service between Prince Rupert and Vancouver.
The new rules will also apply to the Haida Gwaii shuttle service that Northern Health arranges with Eagle Transit — the local company runs a weekday $10 shuttle between the northern and southern Haida Gwaii hospitals.
Raper said Northern Health will monitor the changes, noting that if a bus is full, the earliest bookings will always go to people travelling for healthcare reasons and companions they can’t travel without.
All Northern Health buses are booked in advance, he added, making it easier to give healthcare travellers priority. About 11,000 people use the Northern Health Connections service each year, and all six coaches and five minibuses in the fleet have room for wheelchair passengers.
For more information on the Connections routes or the Northern Health shuttle service on Haida Gwaii, visit nhconnections.ca.