UNBC Collaborating with RCMP on Hitchhiking Research

UPDATE (May 22, 2013): Researchers on this project are in need of additional participation from truckers and trucking companies who travel northern roadways. Interested parties are asked to contact Shannon O’Keefe at hitchhiker.project@gmail.com or 250-640-7273.

September 11, 2012
A comprehensive study into hitchhiking in BC has been initiated by the University of Northern British Columbia and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Researchers from two UNBC programs will be collaborating and sharing data with the RCMP in an effort to better understand the reasons people hitchhike and the risks associated with this mode of transportation. This is the first time a police force in North America has worked with a university to research hitchhiking since 1972.

As part of the research, UNBC Women’s and Gender Studies Professor Jacqueline Holler will conduct an online survey and interview members of the public who hitchhike to discern commonalities and patterns that might lead to ways of providing transportation alternatives. “Hitchhikers are just seeking a means of getting from Point A to Point B,” says Dr. Holler. “We are trying to understand hitchhikers' experiences and needs, and then make recommendations (to hitchhikers, to police, and to communities) to improve safety, and to develop alternatives to hitchhiking for those who want them.”

RCMP Staff Sgt. Gord Flewelling says the North District Headquarters approached the University due to the technology and research UNBC has developed and because the institution is at the intersection of the major transportation routes of northern BC.

"RCMP members often stop and assist hitchhikers to be sure they are safe and to get an idea of where they are going,” says Staff Sgt. Flewelling. "Being able to consolidate that information into a database will be an effective means of crime prevention and could also lead to a tip that could help solve an unsolved case. We’re also interested in a better understanding of where the hitchhiking ‘hotspots’ are and whether there is a peak hitchhiking time of year.”
GPS technology developed by UNBC Ecosystem Science and Management Instructor Roy Rea will be used by couriers from five Prince George companies traveling BC highways to help identify heavily hitchhiked areas. “The technology has already been used successfully to pinpoint areas of high animal/vehicle collisions,” says Rea, who is collaborating on the project with UNBC undergraduate student Shannon O’Keefe. “Drivers just click a button to indicate where and when they’ve spotted a hitchhiker or group of hitchhikers and the information will be recorded.”
Prince George courier companies participating in the project include:
•    BNS Transport
•    Valhalla Transport
•    LTC Transport
•    Two Rivers Transport
•    Rosenau Transport

“There is little data about prime hitchhiking locations or the characteristics of hitchhikers in northern British Columbia, which, due to the dangerous nature of hitchhiking, could be a valuable tool for crime prevention,” says O’Keefe.

Members of the RCMP in BC will be having conversations with hitchhikers they see while on duty and will record their own data such as age and gender. The information from both the officers and participating truckers is being consolidated at the University for research and police purposes and then entered into databases at UNBC known as an ARC map and ARC GIS.

Eighteen women since 1969 have been identified as murdered or missing along BC’s highways. All of these cases are unsolved and all victims were involved in high-risk activity such as hitchhiking or last seen near one of three northern BC Highways: Highway 16, Highway 97, or Highway 5. Hitchhiking is often a method of travel for low-income individuals from small, remote communities. 
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Shannon O'Keefe, Jacqueline Hollder, and Roy Rea
Shannon O'Keefe, Jacqueline Holler, and Roy Rea holding one of the devices that will be used by couriers during the project.

Gord Flewelling, Jacqueline Holler, Roy Rea, and Shannon O'Keefe
RCMP Staff Sgt. Gord Flewelling, Jacqueline Holler, Roy Rea, and Shannon O'Keefe.

Highway 16
Highway 16, west of Prince George.
Alyson Gourley-Cramer, Media Relations, UNBC: 250.960.5624 778-349-2719
Staff Sgt. Gord Flewelling, North District Traffic Services, RCMP: 250-649-4006
Roy Rea, Ecosystem Science and Management, UNBC - 250-960-5833
Jacqueline Holler, Women’s and Gender Studies Professor, UNBC - 250.960.6343