Welcome to Bowen Island, where hitchhiking is not only legal but encouraged. In fact, they have a special program for it, Bowen LIFT (Linking Islanders through Friendly Transportation).
Picking up hitchhikers has a long tradition on the island, where most people know the other islanders, at least on sight. But with population on the increase, the tradition was slipping.
A group of five islanders got together in 2010 to do some planning around local transportation. They hit on the idea of lifts, places where signs would be posted and people could stand. Drivers would know anyone standing there wanted a ride. The idea was not to replace the old pattern of islanders giving each other rides but to encourage everyone to be more willing to share transportation.
The Bowen Island Undercurrent says they divided the island into neighbourhood zones, each of them colour coded. Drivers could pick up colour-coded signs to hang from their mirrors or stick on their dashboards, showing where they were headed. Riders could hang matching signs from lanyards, making it easy for drivers to see at a glance if they were going the same way.
Five LIFT Stops, with a thumbing icon designed by island artist Ron Woodall, were created on the roads leading away from the ferry dock. The original idea of the colour coding was to help foot passengers on the ferries connect with drivers. They could walk around the ferry deck and check for cars with hangers showing their neighbourhood destinations.
Organizers didn’t stop there. Determined to make ride sharing a viable transportation option for islanders, they applied for Environment Canada funding. Their proposal was successful. With a $49,000 grant from the EcoAction Community Funding Program, they have the funds to create tags and lanyards, erect more LIFT Stops, and publicize the program to islanders.
CBC Radio interviewed organizer Rosemary Knight on The Current. When Anna Maria Tremonti asked her if she was concerned about safety, Knight answered:
We don’t see it as strangers jumping into cars with strangers. It’s really about neighbours connecting with neighbours.
I heard recently that private vehicles are parked about 90 percent of the time. That’s a pretty wasteful use of resources. Bowen LIFT encourages better use of those vehicles, not by moving them more often but by trying to fill their seats more often. They give me hope.