British Columbia

Salt Spring residents defend island's hitchhiking 'culture'

Islanders are worried they will lose a long-standing hitchhiking spot after the RCMP and the Ministry of Transportation expressed concerns about safety.

Islanders worried long-standing hitchhiking spot will be closed down by RCMP and Ministry of Transportation

Supporters of Salt Spring Island's hitchhiking culture gather around Embe Bakery — a popular hitchhiking spot. Locals are worried the spot will get shut down due to safety concerns. (Christopher Roy/Salt Spring Exchange)

Residents of Salt Spring Island are defending the island's "cultural institution" of hitchhiking after what they say are efforts by the RCMP and the Ministry of Transportation to curb the practice.

Salt Spring Island is the largest of B.C.'s Gulf Islands. The popular tourist spot has a population of just over 10,000 people which swells in the summer months.

Long-time resident Lisa Dahling says hitchhiking is just part of the Salt Spring ethos.

"When you come to Salt Spring, we have taxis and buses that run every couple of hours, so it's a common occurrence for people to stand and get a ride south on the island," she said.

"It's a normal part of our culture. It's one of the things what makes us unique."

Dahling — who has a car — says she often picks up travellers, sometimes once a day in the summer months.

She says that cultural institution is now under threat due to concerns about safety.

She said the Ministry of Transportation — in consultation with the local RCMP — visited a popular hitchhiking spot in front of Embe Bakery to review whether a safety barrier should be put up to dissuade people from using the shoulder for pick-ups.

She also alleged RCMP officers have threatened to ticket people who were hitchhiking.

Dahling started a petition to save that spot and held a public demonstration at the spot on Monday afternoon.

"We thought we got to make a stand," she said.

Issue blown out of proportion: RCMP

Cpl. Tammy L. Douglas with the RCMP Island District said the issue has been blown out of proportion.

"They're missing the point," she said. "It's not so much the concern about people hitchhiking as that one particular location where they stop because it is a traffic concern and a safety concern."

Douglas confirmed representatives from the Ministry of Transportation had consulted with local RCMP about community safety concerns which included this particular hitchhiking spot.

"It is at an intersection on a hill. There's not enough room to pull off safely," she explained.

Nevertheless, she said any physical changes to the road would have to come from the ministerial level.

"Infrastructure is out of our lane. We can make recommendations to the Ministry of Transportation in regards to safety issues but any decisions that are made are completely their decisions."

She added she was unaware of any officers issuing tickets (or threatening to issue tickets) for hitchhiking.

As for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, a spokesperson said it cannot speak to any future reaching plans until a government is in place.

With files from On the Island

Google Maps: Embe Bakery