Advocates concerned 'risky transportation' options will fill bus gaps as Greyhound leaves B.C.
Ottawa pledged funding for private operators taking over routes, but no timeline for replacement services
Advocates for vulnerable residents in remote B.C. communities are voicing safety concerns over gaps in bus service, despite the federal government's pledge to support private operators taking over Greyhound routes.
The announcement from Ottawa came on Wednesday morning as some Greyhound buses made their last trips. At midnight, communities in at least eight areas of British Columbia will be without bus service.
There is no set timeline for when replacement bus services will begin or which routes they will take.
No specific amount was pledged by Transport Minister Marc Garneau on Wednesday, just a promise to help out for two years.
"While we recognize that the best solutions are market based, we want to make sure that Canadians affected by these service reductions will have access to safe, affordable and viable inter-city transportation options," Garneau said.
For organizations like Union Gospel Mission, the Greyhound buses went hand-in-hand with a crisis support service to help people travel to visit sick relatives, attend funerals or escape domestic violence.
The charity provides about 130 travel grants each year.
"[Without bus service] those wouldn't be able to happen," said Jeremy Hunka, the spokesperson for UGM in Vancouver.
Limited transportation options can push people to look for other options to get around, Hunka said.
"At UGM, we've seen women turn to Craigslist or we've seen them turn to hitchhiking," he said.
"If something isn't available right away, they will turn to that risky transportation."
Concerns in the north
Greyhound had provided service to 61 communities in B.C., but now the only remaining route will run from Vancouver to Seattle.
About 83 per cent of routes in southern B.C. will be covered by private operators by the end of the year, the B.C. NDP says.
Greyhound ended its northern service along the notorious Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears, in May.
The province stepped in to fill the gap with a one-year pilot project called B.C. Bus North, but hasn't filled the gap in other northern communities.
For Mary Teegee, executive director of child and family services at Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George, this is cause for great concern.
"We're looking at just the ability to get to the basic services that people in urban areas people enjoy — things like going to the doctor, shopping for food, basic services," Teegee said.
'The last ones in B.C.'
For British Columbians like Valerie Peters, who lives outside Quesnel, the impact of Greyhound leaving is immediate.
Buses to the small city in the Cariboo, south of Prince George, have not been replaced by either the province or private companies yet.
"We're the last ones in B.C. to even be acknowledged that we need a bus line," she said.
"We're the only ones in limbo right now in the Cariboo region."
Peters frequently relied on Greyhound buses to get to Vancouver for medical appointments with specialists that aren't available in the north. She caught one of the last buses home this week.
"A lot of people are going to be stuck," she said.