The geography and community of Bowen Island creates a transportation challenge, with a neighbourly solution. See how the Bowen Lift program matches drivers and passengers in an updated version of hitchhiking offering a unique sustainability solution.
Scenic Bowen Island, located at the mouth of Howe Sound, is a community of about 3500 people just a 20 minute ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay. Proximity to the mainlaind means easy access for residents and the island is home to many city commuters. This fact, coupled with the geography of Bowen, creates a unique set of transportation challenges for this little island. In 2010, a small community group began thinking seriously about local transportation.
“We were wondering what we, on Bowen Island could do, to reduce our carbon footprint, says Rosemary Knight , Co-founder of Bowen LIFT. “Single occupancy vehicle use is a large part of the carbon footprint of Bowen Island. We’ve got a great bus service on the island, but because of the complex road network, people live off the bus routes.”
These factors gave rise to a potential solution that was familiar to long-time residents.
“We’re a small, friendly community and hitchhiking has always been part of this island’s community,” explains Knight. “And we noticed that people weren’t hitchhiking as much as they used to.”
With a handful of volunteers and a few donations, the group created the sharing project: Bowen LIFT.
“Well,” says Knight, “the name says it all, Linking Islanders through Friendly Transportation. There’s a number of parts to Bowen Lift. One part are the lift stops. People stand at the lift stops, people come by and give them a lift.”
In the fall of 2011, 5 LIFT stops were installed on the roads leading out of Snug Cove, the main village on Bowen Island. And in 2012, Bowen LIFT was awarded a grant from Environment Canada’s EcoAction Community Funding Program. With the assistance of the Bowen Island municipality, the grant will pay for new LIFT stops.
Knight outlines the next steps.
“The goal is to have about 20 lift stops at various locations around the island. So we’ve been working with the municipality, talking to Bowen Islanders, talking to people in different parts of the island to figure out where the lift stops make sense.”
The LIFT stops are one part of the system. In addition, drivers attach colour-coded tags to their dashboard mirrors signaling one of eight intended destinations. Pedestrians wear lanyards colour coded the same way. This helps passengers and drivers find each other. The EcoAction Community Funding Program helped to pay for the printing of supplies and also outreach activities to help target specific groups like commuters on the ferry.
“We also see Bowen Lift as working closely with commuters who are getting off and on the ferry, and working to help reduce the problem of parking in the Cove,” explains Knight.
She says the group sees Bowen LIFT as more than just a transportation initiative.
“There’s nothing like hitchhiking or picking up a hitchhiker for getting to know people that you don’t know. It’s a great way of building community. I think hitchhiking is a great litmus test for a community. Do you feel safe here, do you feel safe getting in a car, do you feel safe picking up a hitchhiker. Something like Bowen Lift, would be great for small communities that are like Bowen Island. I think it’s an ideal programme for islands. We would really like to see ride sharing of various forms adopted as an integral part of a transportation strategy for Bowen Island.”
For Knight, Bowen LIFT is a reflection of the island’s culture.
“Neighbours helping neighbours, Bowen Islanders giving and getting lifts from each other. It’s really the best of Bowen. It’s us coming together to address an important global problem, our carbon footprint, and we’re doing it in a Bowen way.”