Column: From the Hill -- the Bus Service Problem
Greyhound’s announcement that it will be pulling all its routes out of western Canada at the end of October came as a surprise, and for many it was more serious news. It left them wondering how they were going to travel to work sites, to visit relatives and friends, or to go to university in the fall. For them, the bus isn’t just a transportation option, it’s the only way they can afford to travel.
Yes, the bus was never the glamourous way to travel. Most of us have stories of crazy rides—I remember one trip along Highway 5 south of Blue River where the bus stalled in the middle of nowhere at 2 in the morning. My seatmate and I were ordered out by the driver to stand in the big wheel-wells at the front of the bus and push with all our might until the bus shuddered to life again. I never thought you could jumpstart a Greyhound, but you can.
The question facing us now, of course, is can we jumpstart a whole new bus service? Should governments get involved to ensure all Canadians have a means to travel between towns? I think the answer is yes, they must.
Government-run bus services already dominate urban centres large and small across Canada. Here in the South Okanagan and West Kootenay we have BC Transit buses that get people to work, bring them to stores and medical appointments, let them visit friends. These services are subsidised by the government—BC Transit pays for half the cost; local governments pay for the other half and collect the fares. Local companies are contracted to provide the service—in the South Okanagan that is provided by Berry and Smith. Other companies do the work in the Kootenay.
We could easily expand this service to connect centres throughout British Columbia. The provincial government has already created such a service along Highway 16 west of Prince George—the “Highway of Tears.” The logistical and financial solutions don’t have to be the same in every area and along every route, but the government should have a plan to ensure that all the major routes are covered.
The federal government has a role to play as well, especially in terms of interprovincial routes. I’ve talked to Claire Trevena, the BC Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, about this issue and she is cautiously optimistic that a solution can be found before Greyhound’s service ends. She told me that all the western provincial governments recognize the seriousness of the problem and are requesting Ottawa’s help. The federal NDP has also asked the Liberal government to step up.
Reliable, safe and affordable bus service connecting communities across Canada is an essential part of our country’s infrastructure. Seniors on fixed incomes who can’t drive cannot hitchhike to visit their grandchildren. Young people looking for work should have a cost-effective way to move to where that work is.
When decisions were being made forty or fifty years ago about eliminating passenger train service in most of Canada, buses were providing an alternate service. There is no alternative now if buses are eliminated. We must act quickly to have a service in place this fall so that all Canadians can have a transportation system they can rely on.