The last Greyhound bus pulls into a station in Western Canada Wednesday night at midnight, the victim of high costs and declining ridership, according to U.S. parent company Greyhound.
Greyhound announced in July that it was ceasing all service in northern Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, with the exception of its service between Vancouver and Seattle. It pulled out of northern B.C. in May and stopped booking return trips a few days ago.
"Despite best efforts over several years, ridership has dropped nearly 41 per cent across the country since 2010 within a changing and increasingly challenging transportation environment," Greyhound said in announcing the withdrawal. "Simply put, we can no longer operate unsustainable routes."
Smaller and regional competitors, including Calgary's Pacific Western Transportation, Regina's Rider Express, Indigenous-owned Mahihkan Bus Lines in Manitoba, are stepping in to take over, sometimes with the aid of provincial governments. The longer routes between large cities are attractive.
Klein said she has a lease until the end of the year, and if a deal cannot be struck, EATology may simply open somewhere else.
But some routes may be gone for good, leaving rural communities with no public transportation to other cities.
Garland Chow, director of the Bureau of Intelligent Transportation Systems and Freight Security at UBC's Sauder School of Business in Vancouver, says bus travel gradually has become less viable, particularly to smaller centres.
"A bus is not like a retail store where they can hold the product until you buy it. When the bus is ready to go, people get on it and it pulls out of the station, whether it's sold all the seats or not," he says.
Greyhound operated large buses, because in peak seasons every seat would be filled, but often they are half empty, Chow said.
"People have expectations. They want to travel at the time they want — in the morning or in the afternoon, but with buses it only pays to do one a day or perhaps two.
The problem is particularly acute for small communities. Dozens of small towns in northern Ontario are affected, with the cancellation of Greyhound buses from west of Sudbury, through Sault Ste. Marie, Thunder Bay and Kenora to Winnipeg. Similarly, communities in Manitoba, British Columbia's Interior, Alberta and Saskatchewan are also losing bus service.
In Saskatchewan, Greyhound is the second bus service to shut down in as many years. The Saskatchewan Transportation Company stopped operating in 2017.
"Relatively and absolutely, the population of rural communities is declining and has been for a long time," Chow said. People continue to move from small communities to larger centres, where there is more work, and that means fewer people to take the bus.
But some people need the public service that an inter-city bus provides — including seniors who no longer like to drive long distances, people heading to specialist medical appointments in another city, and low-income people, he said.
Provincial governments often cover their transportation costs for patients heading to medical appointments out of town and may be facing increased costs as a result.
Mike Cassidy, president of Maritime Bus in Charlottetown, says about half of bus freight is for businesses, the other half personal.
"My question is who's going to take over the Trans-Canada corridor? If I want to ship a parcel from Halifax to Edmonton, who's going to do it?" says Cassidy, whose company took over routes into P.E.I. when Acadian Coach Lines ceased service in 2012.
Cassidy said even with many operators coming into the market, it will take some time before a coherent bus system is in place.
Brent McKnight, associate professor of strategic management in the DeGroote School of Business in Hamilton, agrees it will take some time for alternatives to be worked out.
But he believes someone, most likely the operator taking over the long-haul routes from Vancouver to Winnipeg, will step in to try to co-ordinate coast-to-coast freight and passenger service.
Entrepreneurs will likely find "a model that works," McKnight said. And he predicts it will be lower cost, perhaps with smaller buses and more personalized service.
A hub-and-spoke system, similar to the way feeder airlines run from small cities to larger hubs, will likely evolve, McKnight said.
Still, the smaller communities may have to take the initiative if they have a significant population relying on buses, he said. Social entrepreneurs also may step into the breach, working with donors or with municipalities to create a local system, particularly where people must attend out-of-town medical appointments.
"What I'd love to see is communities stepping forward that have an institutional interest and creating a service for their community," he said.
Chow points to the Megabus model in the U.S. and southern Ontario as a potential winner in Western Canada, but says it will have to be adapted for Canada's weather. It operates on a hub and spoke system and keeps costs low by stopping in mall parking lots and on highway roadsides, instead of in bus terminals.
Terminals are an expense for bus companies and provinces, and municipalities may have to subsidize some of the cost to keep bus service operating, he said.
"For all countries, this is social policy issue. Do we care if rural areas are populated or not? When we look at overall recovery costs, governments tend to pull back."
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Canadians left isolated by the shutdown of Greyhound services in western Canada and northern Ontario will have to wait two years for potential permanent replacements of the buses they’ve depended on, the federal government revealed Wednesday as it offered to help temporarily fill service gaps.
As Greyhound was making its final runs on routes it deemed unsustainable, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced that the Trudeau government is open to helping affected provinces pay for bus service in communities where other companies have not taken over.
As well, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said her department will subsidize bus services to remote Indigenous communities where needed.
The announcements leave many commuters “stranded” with no information or details on how they will get around, the Amalgamated Transit Union complained.\
“For decades, Greyhound was the critical link connecting … small town and isolated First Nations communities with bigger urban centres, ensuring their safety, health and security,” ATU Canada president John Di Nino said in a statement.
Greyhound announced in July that it would end service on all but one of its routes in western Canada, and in northern Ontario, effective Oct. 31.
Since then, several regional companies have come forward to offer bus services, taking over 87 per cent of the abandoned Greyhound routes, Garneau said.
Some of those companies have already begun operations while others are set to roll in the new few weeks, he said.
For the 13 per cent left without service, Ottawa will work with the provinces to come up with alternatives, Garneau pledged.
“The government of Canada is prepared to assist affected provinces in determining the best path forward and is open to considering avenues towards finding effective solutions,” he told an Ottawa news conference.
The government will also financially support start-up transportation companies in Indigenous communities through business development programs already in place, said Philpott.
“The federal government will be engaging with Indigenous communities to support those impacted by bus service cancellation, as well as supporting community-led solutions including new economic opportunities such as Indigenous-owned transportation businesses,” she announced.
But a more permanent ground-transportation structure is needed nationwide, and Ottawa will work with the provinces and territories over the next two years to find a better, longer-lasting solution, Garneau said.
A working group will develop a “long-term plan to address mobility issues across the entire country, not just the West,” the minister said.
Watch below: The federal government announced plans Wednesday to service remote, Indigenous communities amid the Greyhound shutdown
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities welcomed the announcement, saying cities and towns will need to be consulted as governments design new inter-city transportation programs.
Garneau said the federal government knows how much it is prepared to spend on subsidized bus services but won’t share the figure until later.
The company began operating a handful of 15-passenger minibuses shortly after the government-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company shut down its bus services in the spring of 2017.
Rider acquired five 50-seat buses and plans to begin passenger service on a Vancouver-Calgary-Winnipeg route on the Trans-Canada Highway this week, followed in November by a Highway 16 route linking Edmonton and Saskatoon, said manager Shauna Hardy. Both routes will directly replace Greyhound routes.
The interest from Saskatchewan residents has been “overwhelming,” she said, adding the company is being asked to take on more routes but has so far declined.
Buses have been used by the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits program to provide medical transportation services for Indigenous communities.
Watch below: Greyhound buses will stop running in western Canada at midnight Wednesday, Oct. 31. Kent Morrison has more on what passengers will look to to fill the gaps in service.