Greyhound cuts service to outlying areas

Six weeks after the province decided to deregulate passenger bus transport, Greyhound announces it's cutting routes across northern and central Alberta.

Greyhound is cutting bus routes across northern and central Alberta in the wake of the province's move to deregulate passenger service.

A dozen routes in central and northern Alberta will be stopped on Oct. 24, including from Edmonton to Drayton Valley, Slave Lake, Peace River and Cold Lake.

"Greyhound runs 54-seat buses — big buses, that's what they run. And they were faced with a situation of operating large buses with single-digit numbers of passengers. So, it didn't make sense economically," Greyhound spokesperson Tom Olsen said.

The cuts follow the Alberta government's decision at the end of June to deregulate passenger bus transport. Previously, bus companies like Greyhound and Red Arrow were required to provide a minimum level of service to rural and small communities in exchange for monopolies or limits to the number of competitors on other, high-traffic routes.

Greyhound said last fall it was losing $7.5 million a year on the generally unprofitable outlying destinations.

"That is not a business model that's going to work. And we're in free-enterprise Alberta, so I think people can accept that," Olsen said.

Years of service cuts

Sherri Bohme, executive director of the Cold Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, said businesses and people will be hurt.

"It's easier to attract people to come to Cold Lake" with an intercity bus service, Bohme said. "There's people that have medical appointments in Edmonton that there is no other way for them."

She said that the routes should be an essential service and that she will ask the province to reconsider.

While the service cut doesn't effect many people in Drayton Valley, Mayor Moe Hamdon said there will be a big impact on those who do need the bus to get to Edmonton.

"Those that don't drive, whether due to age or not having a licence ... it impacts them significantly," he said.

Hamdon is sending a letter to the provincial government and all political party leaders asking for help. He wonders if the province can offer Greyhound an incentive to keep the service.

The Alberta government said smaller carriers should be able to pick up the routes and run them profitably.

Greyhound's courier service will not be affected by the cuts.

It's not the first time the bus company has slashed service to less populous areas. Throughout 2010, Greyhound trimmed routes in B.C., Alberta and Ontario, including from Kelowna, B.C., to Calgary  and from Toronto to dozens of communities in Ontario.

In 2009, Greyhound, owned by Scotland-based FirstGroup, threatened to shut down passenger operations in all of Manitoba and northwest Ontario, saying it needed $15 million in government aid to keep its vehicles running in those regions.

The company backed off as the Manitoba government agreed to subsidize it  with $3.1 million in 2010 and another $3.9 million for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.