Greyhound wants to leave northern B.C. and says government-funded transit should take its place

Saying it is no longer possible for bus companies to be profitable in rural British Columbia, Greyhound Canada is calling on the provincial and federal governments to step in with public funding for intercity transit routes.

Bus company says it's no longer possible to make a profit in rural parts of the province

Greyhound Canada has filed an application to cease all service in northern B.C. as well as its routes between Victoria and Nanaimo. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Saying it is no longer possible for bus companies to be profitable in rural and northern British Columbia, Greyhound Canada is calling on the provincial and federal governments to step in with public funding for intercity transit routes.

The call came as B.C.'s Passenger Transportation Board kicked off a series of public meetings reviewing Greyhound's application to stop serving northern B.C. and Vancouver Island.

"The viability of rural routes has been on the decline for many years," said Greyhound senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick.

"The passenger demand just isn't there."

Greyhound wants to scrap passengers routes from Prince Rupert to Prince George, Prince George to Valemount, Prince George to Dawson Creek and Dawson Creek to Whitehorse, citing new competition and fewer passengers. (OpenStreetMap Contributors, CartoDB)

In August, the bus company filed an application to end all of its bus runs in northern British Columbia, including the stretch of road between Prince George and Prince Rupert known as the Highway of Tears — so named because of the number of women along the route who've either gone missing or have been murdered.

Greyhound also applied to end its run from Victoria to Nanaimo, Victoria to Vancouver and from the University Endowment Lands in Vancouver to Whistler.

The news prompted widespread backlash from both Greyhound users and political leaders in northern B.C., many of whom cited the lack of alternatives for getting from community to community in the region without a private vehicle.

But Kendrick said there is no way for a private company to serve the region, which is what prompted Greyhound Canada to propose a "Connecting Communities Fund."

A new bus service is connecting communities along B.C.'s Highway 16, a route commonly known as 'The Highway of Tears.' Greyhound argues the service amounts to subsidized competition, although community leaders have pointed out the service is not suitable for longer trips and doesn't reach many of the communities Greyhound wishes to stop serving. (Briar Stewart/CBC)

Under the proposal, municipalities and Indigenous communities in B.C. would receive funding from either the provincial or federal governments to create their own inter-city bus routes using an open bidding process.

"It's clear that this is what the communities need," Kendrick said.

Few public speakers at Prince George hearing

The decision over whether Greyhound Canada will be able to cancel routes is in the hands of B.C.'s Passenger Transportation Board, which is in charge of licensing taxi services, shuttle vans and inter-city buses in B.C.

Board chair Catharine Read said her group is touring the north in order to get a sense of how reliant on Greyhound people in the region are.

"We need to hear what transportation services they use now and how they'd be affected by Greyhound's application," she said.

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall said the current Greyhound schedule has too many passengers waiting or arriving at bus depots late in the night. (Audrey McKinnon/CBC)

However, despite the board receiving hundreds of letters and emails in response to the application, only four people spoke at the first hearing in Prince George.

Prince George Mayor Lyn Hall said the current Greyhound schedule failed to serve passengers.

"It puts people in predicaments at a location very, very late at night or early in the morning," he said.

A small group showed up in Prince George for the first in a series of public hearings focused on whether Greyhound will be allowed to leave northern British Columbia. (Audrey McKinnon/CBC)

"We want people to have safe travels in the north ... we'd certainly like to see schedules that are enabling folks to be safe while they are waiting for the bus."

Hall said he understood Greyhound's business concerns, and he would be open to a model where government helps maintain intercity transit in the region.

"I hope there's a willingness on all parts to come to the table to see what can be done."

While Read acknowledged Greyhound could always stop serving northern B.C. without her board's approval, she said there could be consequences in the form of the company's ability to operate in other parts of the province.

"We expect that some of the routes down south will be profitable, and they will want to continue on with those," she said.

The next public hearings are in Terrace on Dec. 12, Smithers on Dec. 13 and Fort St. John on Dec. 14.

With files from Audrey McKinnon