hwy phone 

Toll highway Free 1-800 highway info dropped British Columbia's Ministry of Transportation and Highways has changed the toll free 1-800 number for up-to-date information on B.C.'s highways to a 1-900 number with a 75 cent per minute charge. While a Highways spokesperson says the change to a 1-900 number will not affect the amount of free information travellers can access before hitting the road, some local motorists are worried the 75 cent a minute charge could persuade some folks to put their phone bill ahead of safety. Rob McLean, manager of programming and business for the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Highways, says the ministry could no longer foot the $400,000-$600,000 a year bill the toll-free number was costing. Over the past five years, he says, Highways has been working very closely with media outlets, cable TV suppliers and radio stations across the province to increase the amount of up-to-date, free, accurate information available to motorists. "With the increasing amount of exposure we have (for highway information) the 1-800 number was in excess of all our other efforts," McLean says. While McLean says the Highways Ministry has changed the 1-800 number to a 1-900 number for "purely fiscal" reasons, they cannot change the habits of drivers who use the province's highways. In addition to the 75 cent a minute 1-900 number, McLean says drivers can get free highway information on BC Tel Cellular and Cantel Networks, from Rogers Cable, Whistler Cable and the Weather Network. In total, updated highway information is available in 871,000 B.C. homes through various cable TV systems. As well, 20 FM and AM radio stations call Highways spokespersons for live highway updates as part of their newscasts. "The radio stations are really getting into talking to someone from the ministry because they can sneak the odd question in as well," he says. June Southwell, a regular traveller up Highway 99 from North Vancouver to Pemberton, says she is disappointed with the decision to charge for telephone inquiries regarding highway information. Southwell says she can call Australia for less than it costs to get highway information. "I don't think it should be a way to make money if it is a safety issue," Southwell says. "The telephone was the easiest and most accessible way of checking the highway conditions. At 75 cents a minute, I'm not going to call... I would probably just head out there and take my chances."

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