Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Greyhound to cancel almost all western Canada bus service as of October

Until now one could get on a bus on the west coast of Canada in Vancouver and travel by Greyhound all the way to the capital of Ontario in the south of the province.

As of October this year, the company plans to drop all its Canadian routes west of Sudbury in northern Ontario all the way through the three prairie provinces and BC. Only one route will remain in BC run by the US branch of the company from Vancouver to Seattle. Only parts of Ontario and Quebec will house the few remaining Greyhound routes.
The official explanation
Greyhound Canada senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick said in an interview with the Canadian Press: "This decision is regretful and we sympathize with the fact that many small towns are going to lose service. But simply put, the issue that we have seen is the routes in rural parts of Canada — specifically Western Canada — are just not sustainable anymore."
Kendrick claimed that 415 people will lose their jobs and he estimates the ending of service will impact about two million consumers. The many small towns that the decision will impact include Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver, all of the major cities in western Canada.
The company is blaming a 41 percent decline in ridership since 2010, competition from subsidized national and inter-regional passenger transportation services, the growth of new low-cost airlines, regulatory constraints, plus the growth of car ownership. Kendrick said declining ridership was the primary culprit. Kendrick noted that in many communities there will be no alternate bus service.
Kendrick claimed: "The company has experienced significant losses despite continued efforts to return to viability. In the affected regions, the company has run an operating deficit since 2004. We have had substantial losses over several years as a direct result of declining ridership."
Some questions about the official story
Greyhound is owned in Great Britain by First Group and headquartered in Dallas Texas. They have little interest in serving the vast reaches of western Canada on routes that do not make a profit. They have already discontinued routes in northern BC as of June 1 and other routes, even one along the Yellowhead main highway from Winnipeg to Saskatoon detours now up to Dauphin and then to Yorkton and Saskatoon.
Often there is little or no competition along the major routes such as the Trans-Canada. Last March the main competitor in Saskatchewan, the government owned 70-year old Saskatchewan Transportation was shut down as the government refused to keep subsidizing the service that served many rural communities throughout the province. An article in Digital Journal reported on the closing.
It is not surprising that ridership has declined in that the company has been cutting service even between major centers or the service is at times that may not be convenient for customers. The bus station in Brandon is now open only at certain times.
While the major routes along the Trans-Canada probably make a profit the company no doubt prefers to operate only in areas with high population density that generate more traffic and revenue rather than serve a smaller population over a huge area.
The decision will have very negative effects on remote communities
Sheila North, grand chief of the Keewatinowi Okimakanak said that Northern Canada would be where the change would be felt most deeply: “I think this is abandoning the North,” she said, citing a high demand in the region for transportation services — “especially for those that live in poverty, but also who have medical needs that need to get down to the south for resources that are not accessible in the North.” Darlene Okemaysim Sicotte of Saskatchewan said the decision would provoke a northern crisis and said: “It’s going to affect a lot of people (who will be) very, very isolated, especially the vulnerable people who have to deal with poverty and mental health and physical health issues that need treatment.”
Claire Trevena BC Transportation Minister said the decision would make it very difficult for those who use the service in the interior and depend on it to go to and from Alberta. Trevena said: “At no point did Greyhound reach out to me, or my staff, to have a conversation on solutions to keep people connected — something I would have expected, given their long history in this province. In the weeks and months ahead, I will be sitting down with other service providers, the private sector and local government to discuss how we can ensure people have access to safe, reliable and affordable transportation to get from one community to the next.”
Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Arlen Dumas, noted that its members were heavily reliant on Greyhound for transportation especially for medical conditions. Dumas said: “It is already well documented that our citizens have to ride the bus for hours, some longer than 14 hours, in order to see a doctor. How will they get access to adequate health care now?” Grand Chief Arlen Dumas wondered in a statement, which also noted that “health care is a treaty right.”
Deregulation contributed to the loss of service
A recent article in The Star by Thomas Walkom blames governments' fascination with deregulation that has forced Greyhound into abandoning its western Canadian routes. In earlier periods, when bus travel was much more prevalent companies were given a specific deal. They would be licensed to serve very profitable routes but in return had to operate less profitable often rural routes. This system worked by and large as most small communities in Ontario at least had some form of regular bus service.
However, in the province of Saskatchewan the government owned Saskatchewan Transportation served the whole province including many small rural communities whose service was subsidized by profits from routes such as that between Regina and Saskatoon. The service ran for 70 years and when it was ended last year the decision was extremely unpopular.
However, governments began to move towards deregulation arguing that this would encourage competition and drive down prices. The situation varied from province to province. On well-traveled routes between big cities such as Montreal and Toronto fares did fall but then companies had less extra funds to subsidize unprofitable routes. Naturally companies began to drop these routes. The problem is that instead of being a public service travel becomes a source of profit.
The Ontario system favored large operators such as Greyhound according to Walkom: "It was a system that benefited big operators, such as Greyhound (which by the mid-1990s had purchased most of Gray Coach Lines). On the one hand, their profitable routes were protected from too much competition. On the other, they had to give almost nothing in return."
In 2009 Greyhound had demanded government subsidies as a condition for keeping bus services alive in the western provinces but only Manitoba provided a degree of subsidization.
The solution to the problem is to consider buses as a public service. Private enterprise will not operate a bus business if it will not make a profit but given the large number of far flung rural and northern communities in the west there is no way that such routes would be profitable. We don't expect our schools or courts to make a profit. Each province could have a system such as the Saskatchewan government had for 70 years. Or alternatively the federal government could set up a Canada-wide system owned by the federal government.

Previously published in Digital Journal

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