Civic leaders make pitch to keep Greyhound in the North

 

Passenger Transportation Board members William Bell, Catherine Read, and Mary Sjostrom listen to presentations on Greyhound's application to cut several routes in northern B.C. Bill Phillips photo
Passenger Transportation Board members William Bell, Catherine Read, and Mary Sjostrom listen to presentations on Greyhound’s application to cut several routes in northern B.C. Bill Phillips photo

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

Greyhound representatives outnumbered the board members 4-3 at a Passenger Transportation Board hearing in Prince George Monday.

The bus service is looking to discontinue its passenger service along Highway 16 and needs the board’s blessing to do so. Greyhound sent its district manager for B.C., its senior vice-president Canada, a lawyer, and its regional vice-president for western Canada to the public hearing at the Coast Inn of the North.

About 20 people attended the hearing which saw local community leaders urge the board to deny the company’s request.

Greyhound is seeking to eliminate the following routes: Dawson Creek – Fort Nelson, Fort Nelson – Yukon Border and Highway 97, Dawson Creek – Prince George, Prince George – Fort St James, Prince Rupert – Prince George and Prince George – Alberta border and Highway 16.

The company is losing $35,000 a day, $70 million a year, in B.C., said Stuart Kendrick, Senior Vice President, Canada.

“We value the service we’ve done over the past 85 years,” he said. “Regrettably, we have to make an application that certain high-cost routes be discontinued to reduce the losses that we’ve seen in B.C. over the past few years.”

He said the passenger division of the bus service has been unprofitable for several years. He blamed that on market conditions and publicly subsidized competition. Here in the North, Northern Health runs its Connections bus which transports residents to medical services and a subsidized shuttle service along Highway 16, the Highway of Tears, continues to grow.

“Specifically it’s an issue of declining load factor,” he said. “Increased urbanization has left rural areas with fewer passengers.”

He said ridership, overall, has decreased about 46 per cent since 2010.

“We think accessible transportation between rural communities and urban destinations,” he said. “Greyhound can simply no longer provide the service on its own.”

Greyhound has suggested to the provincial government that it create a connected communities fund to ensure “sustainable and cost effective” transportation.

Kendrick said using smaller buses has been suggested, however said the 24-seat buses they use in the U.S. are subsidized and are geared for warmer climates.

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall pointed the three members of the Passenger Transportation Board to a Union of British Columbia Municipalities resolution calling for the board to reject Greyhound’s application. That doesn’t mean, however, that the mayor didn’t sympathize with the bus company’s plight.

“I certainly understand the financial impact that Greyhound is under and understand what they’re doing to try and resolve that financial impact,” he said.

Hall said the UBCM resolution called on the province to deny the application and instead ensure that the B.C. transportation network remains fully connected and “achieve our province’s collective public safety, social, economic and environmental goals.” A second UBCM resolution called on the provincial government to strengthen the province’s transportation infrastructure across the province.

Hall, along with Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen and Mackenzie councillor Andy Barnes, stated that one of the problems with the Greyhound service in northern B.C. is its scheduling.

“We’re seeing scheduling that’s based on freight transportation that makes is difficult for passengers to be attracted to the transportation routes,” he said.

Both Barnes and Thiessen stated that, depending on which way one is travelling, passengers can expect either 11 p.m. or 6 a.m. departures in those communities.

“If you take a look at Highway 16, and if you’re on Highway 16, the remoteness of those communities is not as great as when we talk about communities that are serviced off Highway 16,” Hall added. “For (those communities) to lose any kind of connection to Highway 16 is detrimental to what they’re trying to do in their communities.”

Hall said Greyhound transportation is a lifeline for a lot of rural communities.

Hall acknowledged that the Highway of Tears shuttle service likely impacted Greyhound but added “that transportation is another piece that we’re supportive of. We felt that we could provide a service that was in the best interest of people travelling that route.”

He added road service is, by far, the most used in northern B.C.

“Greyhound is not only the best option for many northern residents facing extenuating circumstances, it is the only option,” Hall read from a letter he sent to the board. “It also an essential component of the fabric upon which northerners base their living, working, and educational decisions.”

Hall urged the board to look at whether there are regulations that can reduced or eliminated to help Greyhound deal with its financial issues.

Barnes said that in Mackenzie there is no place for residents to actually purchase Greyhound tickets other than online and pointed out residents who don’t have access to a printer can’t get a ticket. He added there is no actual bus station in the community either.

The Transportation Passenger Board is holding hearings throughout northern B.C. before making a decision on whether to grant Greyhound’s request.