Passenger Transportation Board makes stop in Smithers

Public given the chance to speak about Greyhound’s request to cancel the route along Highway 16.

The B.C. Passenger Transportation Board made a stop in Smithers as part of a Northwest tour last Wednesday to hear from the public about whether or not Greyhound is an essential public service and if it is financially viable in the North.

Seven community members spoke to the governing board that will make the decision to approve Greyhound’s request to withdraw their passenger service along Highway 16.

All seven spoke about the importance of the service and asked the board to deny the company’s request.

Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako Area A (Smithers rural) Director Mark Fisher addressed the panel first. He expressed frustration with the lack of communication between the company and local government.

Kitimat-Stikine Regional District Electoral Area B (Hazeltons rural areas, Kispiox Valley, Moricetown through Cedarvale) Director Linda Pierre echoed his concerns, adding she feels this process is being rushed.

“How did we get here? Where’s the board whose role it is to assess the fiscal capability of the company, their soundness, the need for ridership but there is no overall planning? It is all piecemeal.”

Clayton Campbell, who is the agent at the depot in Smithers and Terrace, also spoke about the lack of communication from Greyhound. He said customers keeps asking him what is going on and he doesn’t know what to tell them.

Smithers Mayor Taylor Bachrach told the panel the question of transportation between rural communities speaks to a larger question of our rural development strategy.

“If we want rural communities in our region to be viable in the future and we want rural life to continue as a fundamental part of our provincial framework and national identity we need to figure this out,” he said.

He also mentioned that the new Highway 16 transportation service was meant to compliment not compete with Greyhound’s service, adding that the hours and routes are different.

Bachrach also read comments he received about the need to keep Greyhound from residents on his social media pages.

Shelley Brown advocated to keep the service on behalf of Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen, and Shelly Worthington spoke on Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson’s behalf, also telling the board the importance of the service for northern rural residents.

Manager of the Smithers and District Chamber of Commerce Heather Gallagher told the panel the business community supports the idea of Greyhound sticking around.

Greyhound requested at the end of August to cancel nine routes in B.C., including five northern B.C. routes and its route from Prince George to Prince Rupert.

Since transportation is a regulated service in B.C., Greyhound does not have a contract with the Province but it does need approval from the five-member B.C. Passenger Service Board to make changes in operations.

Greyhound executives were on hand to answer questions and gave a brief presentation about why they want to cancel the route along Highway 16. They did mention they’d like to keep the freight service and just put an end to the passenger service.

In their presentation, they noted the company has not been profitable for many years due to market conditions. They’ve seen a 46 per cent drop in ridership since 2010 and are currently losing $35,000 a day in B.C.

They recognize it will be difficult and deeply regret having to issue the filing but after throughly exploring every avenue to reengineer its business, they said they have to take this step.

The B.C. Passenger Transportation Board will make their decision early next year.

-with files from Jackie Lieuwen

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