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Opportunity seen to improve Hwy 16 transit after Greyhound leaves

Governments look to Greyhound suggestion of public bus service.
The Greyhound Bus depot in Smithers. (Josh Casey photo)

The Passenger Transportation Board on Feb. 21 approved Greyhound’s proposal to eliminate nine routes across B.C., including the Prince George to Prince Rupert route that runs through the Bulkley Valley.

The bus company has said it can no longer subsidize losses on unprofitable routes with revenue from the more profitable routes in the province. In a decision posted online, the board said it can’t force a private business to suffer “significant financial losses indefinitely.”

“Greyhound said that if it eliminates 1.6 million scheduled miles, it can continue to provide 3.7 million scheduled miles of passenger bus service in central and southern B.C.,” the decision reads.

Greyhound has said the nine routes set to be eliminated by June 1 have dropped 30 per cent in ridership over the last five years, amounting to a loss of $35,000 per day, or $70 million over six years.

The company will also reduce the number of round trips and eliminate stops along 10 other routes, including from the Interior to Lower Mainland, Fort Nelson to the Yukon border, and Prince George to the Alberta border. These routes will go down to two round trips per week in the coming days.

“We regret having to do this and appreciate the board’s acknowledgement of the difficult circumstances under which we’ve been operating over the past several years,” Stuart Kendrick, Greyhound’s senior vice president, said in a statement.

Since Greyhound’s proposal was made public late last year, community leaders in the North have voiced concern over safety and affordability for those needing to travel along the highway routes.

The transportation board held three community forums in communities that would be affected last December, including Smithers. Members heard from people who said transportation is fairly limited, with flights typically more expensive and Via Rail inconsistent.

Port Edward Mayor Dave MacDonald told Black Press Media last week a group of basketball students travelling to Prince George was stranded on a train for 27 hours.

Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen said he was disappointed in the Transportation Board decision, but also does not like the deterioration of rail service.

“I don’t buy the excuses from VIA,” said Cullen.

The MP spoke of using the train when he started the job in 2004, abandoning it when reliability made it impossible to reach ferries and airports in time.

“Why are we always being asked to accept less and less?” asked Cullen

He said a comprehensive transportation plan for the Northwest needs to be created.

“Even if you’re just talking buses there are all types of different services running here and there, and need something that links everything up. And Via needs to be a part of that conversation,” said Cullen.

Greyhound, MP, mayor call for government-funded solution

The bus company has also renewed its call for a “sustainable intercity bus service,” to be funded as a federal and provincial subsidy with private operators and municipalities.

Mayor Bachrach said he’s already spoken with Transportation Minister Claire Trevena about the gap these soon-to-be-empty routes will leave.

In a statement Wednesday, Trevena called the board’s decision “disappointing,” and one that will leave some people vulnerable.

Trevena added she’ll be speaking to community and First Nations leaders to ensure safe, reliable and affordable long-haul transportation remains in place for those who depend on it.

Cullen said he has been talking with federal ministers about the issue, including Transportation Minister Marc Garneau. He hopes to have the federal government a part of conversations with the Province, local municipalities and First Nations as soon as possible now that the Greyhound decision is made.

“It’s not rocket science. We’re talking about a public option from at least Prince Rupert to Prince George with maybe some spur connections, with the essential goal of having safe, reliable public transit,” said Cullen.

“And safe being in bold and italics. How can we turn to young women and say don’t hitchhike when there’s literally no other option.”

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach agrees some people may have to take unsafe measures once the cuts are in place.

“They’re going to find another way to get to where they need to go,” Bachrach said. “And for some folks, that will involve hitchhiking.”

Highway 16, also known as B.C.’s Highway of Tears, has been linked to the disappearance of several aboriginal women along its 720 kilometres between Prince George and Prince Rupert.

However, Gladys Radek, whose niece Tamara Chipman went missing 12 years ago on Highway 16, didn’t appear to be missing the Greyhound service.

“The bus comes here really early in the morning or late, late, late at night,” Radek said, adding that it’s also expensive. “That’s why a lot of people haven’t used it.”

She pointed to safer and more affordable alternatives, such as $5 trips on the Highway 16 Transit system.

Smithers and Telkwa are funding a marketing initiative to boost use of the buses.

“Even with the transit service in place we still see hitchhiking. Our hope is that over time through improvements through the passenger transportation system, we can give people a safe option,” said Bachrach, stressing any new system needs to talk to the people who need it.

The transportation board’s decision said Greyhound must continue the nine routes until June 1, to allow time for private companies to propose alternatives.