On October 31, Greyhound’s bus service is all but coming to an end in western Canada, and while I lament its demise, the writing has been on the wall for some time. In an Edmonton Journal report July 9, the company commented on its decision.
“This decision is regretful and we sympathize with the fact that many small towns are going to lose service,” said Greyhound Canada senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick. “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.”
In the same July 9 story, a First Nations representative highlighted her concerns about what this decision means for people in the north.
“Northern Canada is sure to be where the impact is felt most deeply,” said Sheila North, grand chief of the Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and candidate for chief of the Assembly of First Nations.
“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.”
For people in the Peace Country, it should be no surprise that Greyhound is shutting down, as the region lost the passenger service in 2007 with only the cargo service remaining, and that is now going also.
I sympathize with those living in rural areas who are concerned about losing Greyhound, because it is their only affordable means of getting to larger urban centres for services such as medical, mental health and numerous other services.
Back in the early 2000’s, Greyhound planned to pull passenger service from northern Manitoba, but the company relented when many people voiced their opposition. Beyond that, many residents in northern Manitoba rely on Greyhound’s cargo service for shipments of prescription drugs.
Sheila North is right to be concerned that people living in northern Canada, who must travel to receive medical services, as they will be seriously marginalized by Greyhound’s decision.
True, there is inexpensive air transportation. However, air travel in the north remains prohibitively expensive. Also true, more people now use private vehicles. But, again, how many people living in rural areas can’t afford those forms of transportation or can’t access them due to financial or geographical limitations. What are they supposed to do?
That being said, I appreciate that rural bus service must be viable. There was no business case for Greyhound to continue operating on routes where passenger service has been in decline since 2010, or earlier. Nor can I condone the provincial and federal governments providing financial assistance with taxpayers’ money; and besides, no such help was offered.
However, last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered Montreal-based Bombardier Inc. a $372.5 million loan to keep it afloat. It looks and smells like a case of vote buying in a strategically important election base for the federal Liberal Party. So there is hypocrisy in providing financial aid to one company, but not to another that provides what is an essential service for many.
Still, while I sympathize with rural residents who rely on Greyhound for service, it wasn’t economically viable and the company’s decision is justified.