It’s the end of the line for most Greyhound bus riders in western Canada.
The company’s decision to axe passenger and freight service in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and leave only one route in B.C. is a stinging blow to many residents. This is particularly true for those who rely on a less expensive mode of transportation to go to medical appointments, visit family and friends out of province, or ship goods across the country.
A total of 107 communities in Alberta will be impacted when Greyhound, in operation since 1929, pulls its fleet of buses off the highways in late fall, throwing hundreds of employees out of work and forcing two million customers to find other means of transport.
The service cuts, effective Oct. 31, will result in the closure of the bus depot on Gate Avenue in St. Albert and the bus stop in Morinville, which doesn’t have a full-service terminal or agency.
While the exact number of local Greyhound users isn’t known, on average, the company says it transports about 380,000 passengers in Alberta each year. That number includes many students and seniors – considered frequent bus travellers – who will be anxious to find alternative ways to get about.
The company cites a 41-per-cent drop in overall ridership since 2010 as the main factor for putting the brakes on service. Competition from subsidized national and inter-regional passenger transportation services, the growth of low-cost airlines and a rise in car ownership are also blamed.
Given the substantial decline in passengers over the past eight years, and the ongoing struggle to remain viable, Greyhound’s decision makes financial sense for the intercity bus giant.
But it creates a major gap in public transportation services that will require quick action to serve low- and middle-income earners who don’t own vehicles, especially in rural areas. The Rural Municipalities of Alberta, an association that lobbies on behalf of the province’s 69 counties and municipal districts, is among the groups that have already raised service and safety concerns over diminishing transportation options.
Prior to Greyhound’s announcement there were a number of rural transit initiatives underway or in the works to address needs that had already emerged. In July, the Town of Morinville started a pilot St. Albert-Morinville bus route on Mondays in a bid to help residents access more amenities. The service will run until Aug. 27. In late June, the province announced trials for a rural transit strategy. The Rural Transportation Pilot Program, which consists of four separate projects in the Grande Prairie and Camrose areas that are expected to be up and running in the fall, is expected to cost $1.4 million over two years.
The cancellation of Greyhound western Canadian routes means transit remedies are now even more urgent and critical. It is likely that business, and municipal, provincial and federal governments will have to collaborate to address the emerging transit needs so that vital links between communities are not lost. Otherwise many people will be left at the curb when Greyhound makes its final run through Alberta in October.