That Greyhound Canada abruptly pulled out of Western Canada – and it doesn’t get more abrupt than three months’ notice – was a shock.
But, in retrospect, the end of Greyhound (Western Canada) should not have been a surprise.
Greyhound was operating on an obsolete model of scheduled bus service at fixed prices, leaving at the same time of day and heading out on the same routes no matter the demand or number of passengers on board, not caring about how passengers got to-and-from its bus depots.
It also explains why Greyhound seemed content at its “temporary” bus station in some moose pasture (the VIA Rail terminal) out by the Yellowhead and 122 Street, having moved after the downtown bus station land was sold to Daryl Katz’s ICE District development company.
In retrospect, of course Greyhound wasn’t interested in returning to a central location – not when its top brass knew the company’s presence in all Western Canada was fast ending.
In explaining the move, a Greyhound spokesperson cited a 41 per cent decline in ridership since 2010, and a $35-million loss in its bus cargo division. Those cute little trailers behind the buses didn’t pay for the freight.
The whole thing reeks with irony. Why was ridership so down, especially in Western Canada where passenger rail service is next to non-existent? Aren’t Western Canadians in general travelling much more than they ever used to?
Yes they are, but dropping airfares have peeled passengers away from Greyhound. When it only costs $30 more for a cheap-o flight from Edmonton to Kelowna, versus an all-day bus ride, which would you take? It certainly appears more people can purchase and drive their own vehicles from the small towns of Alberta into regional centres to go shopping and keep doctors’ appointments.
There’s also the shrinking market. The on-going migration from smaller to larger communities continues. Towns are downgraded to villages, villages to hamlets where the last house is being boarded up with the passing of its octogenarian owners.
Greyhound never overcame a perception, rightly or wrongly, that its bus service was not a particularly attractive way to travel, that you only rode the Greyhound if you had no other choice financially or logistically. In contrast, the Red Arrow bus service between major cities, offered individual comfort closer to first-class than economy.
Finally, there’s Internet-enabled alternative services that neither government nor old-style companies understand, let alone adapt to.
Ride-sharing as advertised on social media is happening outside of costly and cumbersome government regulation. Companies like SwiftTime.ca can offer same-day parcel delivery through regular commuters with space in their trunks. UBER, now one of the biggest people transport companies in the world, must be examining ways of providing a rural UBER passenger service.
That said, there is government obligation to ensure ALL Canadians can travel from their homes to urban centres for medical care and to access other essential services. Cross-country service to all is why Trans-Canada Airlines and Canada Post were highly subsidized by government, contracted to provide services to remote parts of the country where private enterprise could not make a profit. Highway 16 across central British Columbia is the Highway of Tears because so many missing women have had little option but to hitchhike … along 1,000 kilometres of major highway.
Ride-sharing requires a smart phone or Internet-connected personal computer. What can government do for that small percentage of the rural population who do not own, or do not know how to use, home computers and the Internet?
For those who are computer-literate, can government contract out rural transportation services to an UBER-like company? Would government ever accept UBER’s safety standards, being the self-policing nature of UBER thanks to online customer reviews of UBER drivers.
The most likely solution will be the emergence of a new, flexible bus line that can meet government rules and regulations to earn “authorized” status (and be deemed worthy of subsidy where necessary) yet be highly nimble, flexible and able to respond to customer needs.
It’s as much an opportunity for the regulating bodies and government to embrace new transportation technologies as it is a challenge.
And to Greyhound – some thanks for providing rural/inexpensive transport up to this point, but mostly good riddance. It had become a hide-bound, unappealing, inflexible company whose demise in Western Canada was as much its own making as it was trends to which the bus line did not respond.