Greyhound will stop running buses in almost all of Western Canada this fall, leaving routes in Ontario and Quebec as the last vestiges of a national bus line that has connected small communities across Canada since 1929.
The cuts to the service, which has been whittled down over the years because of sharp declines in ridership, are expected to be a blow for people in isolated rural areas.
Greyhound Canada said on Monday that, effective Oct. 31, it will pull out entirely from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Service in British Columbia will be reduced to its U.S. counterpart’s Vancouver to Seattle route. And it will stop running buses in Northwestern Ontario, ending service beyond Sudbury. Routes in the rest of Ontario and in Quebec will continue.
“This is definitely needed as a lifeline,” said Christian Sinclair, chief of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation in northern Manitoba.
“Those routes are relied on heavily, because we have a large number of members that transport themselves to Winnipeg daily for medical services,” he added. “All it’s going to do is create more hardship and pressures on the individuals and the families themselves.”
The cuts – which mean job losses for 415 people − come after the company applied last fall to slash service in northern British Columbia, effective June 1. Greyhound Canada senior executive Stuart Kendrick said last September that the company had “no immediate concerns about the long-term viability” of its other routes.
However, he said on Monday that the situation has worsened. According to the company, ridership is down 41 per cent nationwide since 2010 and 8 per cent last year in Western Canada.
“It’s an accelerating problem in rural Canada,” said Mr. Kendrick, the senior vice-president for Canada. “The ridership on some routes, a lot of the routes, is in the single digits. And to sustain a viable network, you need to have those numbers up in the 30s.”
Although the importance of the intercity bus faded over the decades as more Canadians acquired private vehicles, many rural residents do not have automobiles. A 2010 report by Transport Canada warned that lack of transportation is “a top concern” for seniors in rural areas, a demographic that will gradually form a bigger share of the population.
Greyhound’s cuts could strand residents of the many communities that dot the current bus routes, posing a safety risk, because people may be forced to hitchhike, and creating a thorny problem for governments.
British Columbia began a one-year pilot project last monthto operate bus service in its north, replacing routes Greyhound had recently cut. The province, and its neighbours to the east, now face a much larger problem.
In Saskatchewan, a government-run bus service closed in 2017, leaving many communities in the lurch. A statement from Premier Scott Moe’s press secretary ruled out restarting it, arguing “massive taxpayer subsidies” would be needed. Instead, the province is hoping the private sector can replace Greyhound.
In some communities, such services have begun already. In Swift Current, a private company has begun serving a route to Saskatoon, and the mayor is hopeful someone will come along to fill the hole left by Monday’s announcement.
“For Greyhound to cancel, this is a big one for us,” Swift Current Mayor Denis Perrault said. “I’m sure there will be some people that’ll definitely be affected by it, and you know I’m not sure what other avenues they’re going to have in order to meet their travel needs.”
Alberta has started a small-scale bus program of its own, linking regional centres with their surrounding areas. Provincial Transportation Minister Brian Mason, who said he got only “a couple of hours’ notice” from Greyhound, said it was too early to talk about expanding the program.
“Obviously, rural Alberta needs transportation options for people that may not have their own vehicle,” Mr. Mason said. “Clearly, it’s right across Western Canada, so I think we need to be talking to our sister provinces and as well as the federal government.”
Greyhound has gradually been reducing service and cutting routes. It was a risky strategy that threatened to reduce the bus’s viability as a transportation option.
Lee Kennard, the mayor of the Northern Ontario town of Ignace, said the service there had been halved in recent years. The community then lost its stop, meaning people had to call ahead to arrange a pickup. Ignace is one of 58 towns in Ontario losing service.
“This is totally not unexpected to me because they’ve been slowly shutting down, shutting down and shutting down,” he said.
Greyhound’s Mr. Kendrick conceded that past decisions about reducing service could have hurt ridership.
“But at the end of the day, when you have your frequency almost down to a minimum and you still aren’t seeing the ridership to be sustainable, that’s where we’re at today, and unfortunately, the tough decision that we’ve had to make,” he said.
With a report from Xiao Xu