Greyhound Canada has filed an application to end all its bus runs in northern British Columbia, including on the so-called Highway of Tears, as well as between Victoria and Nanaimo.
In an application filed with the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board Aug. 10, the company blames ride-sharing companies, expanded public transit options and a decline in the number of people living in rural locations for a drop in ridership.
The runs Greyhound wants to cease operation are:
- Victoria to Nanaimo.
- Prince George to Prince Rupert.
- Prince George to Valemount.
- Prince George to Dawson Creek.
- Dawson Creek to Whitehorse.
“Despite a long-standing series of corrective measures and discussions with regulatory officials, the reality is that we can no longer operate the unsustainable routes, and we are proposing changes that will make other B.C. routes more viable,” Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president of Greyhound Canada, said in a release.
Should the application be approved, the entire northern half of British Columbia would no longer have Greyhound service, including the Highway of Tears, which extends from Prince George to Prince Rupert.
That stretch of road has gained notoriety due to the number of women and girls, primarily Indigenous, who have gone missing or been murdered since 1970.
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Earlier this year, the provincial government began fulfilling a longstanding request from activists and families of the victims to provide public transit options in order to make travel along the Highway 16 more affordable.
However, the new service came with a warning from Greyhound that it could lead to them decreasing their runs along the same route.
In their release, Greyhound says provincial public transit is tax free, allowing rides to be “subsidized” at rates 75 to 80 per cent lower than their own ticket prices.
Kendrick said he would have preferred the province to work with Greyhound to improve service prior to launching the transit lines.
“The issue is really an unfair playing field,” he said. “Greyhound doesn’t get any subsidy to operate. We run strictly off the fare box.
“Before you spend these type of dollars, have a conversation with the private sector.”
Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach, whose community is along Highway 16, said the new public transit options are completely different from Greyhound’s offerings.
“These transit buses are not intended to provide service between, say, Prince Rupert and Prince George,” he said. “They’re really focused on much smaller segments, getting people into the regional service centers like Smithers or Vanderhoof.
“That need still exists for an inter-city carrier that takes passengers those longer distances…. Greyhound’s been a lifelink for northern B.C. for a long time, and losing the last bit of that service would be a real loss for our region.”
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Greyhound said that since 2010, there has been a more than 50 per cent drop in ridership along the routes it hopes to end, and ending those runs would allow it to refocus on serving other parts of the province.
It also says ride-sharing companies have cut into demands for service. While apps such as Uber and Lyft do not yet operate in the province, online boards, which allow strangers to carpool, do.
“They’re sort of illegal operators,” Kendrick said. “They aren’t following the regulatory structure that we have to follow.”
Kendrick said concerns about ride sharing and public transit have been a longstanding feature of Greyhound’s conversations with the province, and that a meeting with the new NDP government is scheduled.
“There’s always an opportunity,” he said when asked whether changes to the regulatory fees Greyhound faces could result in the routes continuing. However, he added he didn’t think the company could make money in northern B.C. without government assistance.
“We don’t think any carrier in the private sector could operate these corridors without some sort of assistance,” he said.
“We didn’t do this overnight.. it’s at the point now where it’s no longer sustainable.”
The company needs approval from the transportation board in order to end its runs. No changes are likely to come into effect until 2018.