British Columbia

Vancouver-based carpool app makes pitch to replace Greyhound in northern B.C.

A Vancouver-based company thinks carpooling can replace bus service in northern British Columbia.

No transit companies have yet applied to provide service for the region once Greyhound leaves

A Vancouver-based company thinks carpooling can replace bus service in northern British Columbia. (CBC)

A Vancouver-based company thinks carpooling can replace bus service in northern British Columbia as Greyhound prepares to leave the region.

In February, the province's Passenger Transportation Board approved Greyhound Canada's application to stop serving the northern half of the province as of June 1.

The board said it hoped another company would apply to provide transit between communities by then, but so far has not received any formal applications.

However, a Vancouver-based startup believes it has a solution.

Greyhound is ceasing operations in most parts of northern British Columbia and Vancouver Island, while reducing runs in other parts of the province. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

Poparide is a website and app that allows people looking for rides to connect with drivers heading between communities.

Unlike ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, Poparide operates as a carpool service. This means drivers get paid for gas and mileage, but are not able to turn a profit, said company CEO Flo Devellennes.

"It's very affordable because all you're doing is subsidizing the cost of your driver," he said.

Devellennes said he came up with the idea after moving to Vancouver from Europe in 2010 and picking up hitchhikers on the Sea-to-Sky highway heading to Whistler.

"The only [other] option was Greyhound, and the bus was... really unaffordable and inconvenient," he said. 

At first, the service was limited to the Sea-to-Sky corridor, operating under the name HitchWhistler.

But with Greyhound set to stop serving much of the province, Devellennes sees an opportunity to expand elsewhere in the province.

Poparide bills itself as the AirBNB of carpooling, and has recently expanded from B.C. to Ontario and Quebec. (Poparide)

The site works by having drivers post their upcoming trips and willingness to take on passengers, while people looking for rides are able to sign up to come along and pay the fee set by the website.

Drivers set rules such as whether they will accept luggage or pets, and report on whether they have features such as winter tires.

They also set the price, up to a maximum of 12 cents per kilometer, to cover mileage and insurance.

Passengers can also report any problems they run into, and profiles are linked to social media sites and phone numbers.

The Highway 16 corridor — also known as the Highway of Tears — runs between Prince George and Prince Rupert, B.C. Signs along the highway warn against hitchhiking due to the number of women and girls who go missing or are murdered while travelling the region. (Simon Charland-Faucher/CBC)

No profit in B.C.'s north: Greyhound

Greyhound's decision to leave northern B.C. was driven by monetary concerns, with the company saying it was losing an average of $35,000 a day over the past six years.

As of June 1, it will cease runs between Prince George and Prince Rupert, Prince George and Valemount, and Prince George north to Dawson Creek, Fort Nelson and Whitehorse, YK.

While some affected areas have intercity transit, others in the northeast have no other options.

This makes it urgent for an alternative solution to be found, said Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead.

Greyhound will cease almost all services in northern B.C., cutting the routes represented by dotted lines. (Greyhound Canada)

He's been talking to shuttle companies that operate in the region's oil and gas fields about expanding their services to take on more passengers, but said the logistics are complicated.

Bumstead also said that while a carpool service could be a partial solution he didn't see it as a full replacement for Greyhound as it may be difficult to find people driving between small northern communities on a regular basis.

"The remoteness and the isolation of some of these communities, that's what I worry about," he said.

Bumstead said he is speaking to the Minister of Transportation in coming weeks about what to do if private companies don't step in.

Greyhound has said it believes a government-subsidized transit service will be needed in order to continue connecting communities in the region by road.

With files from Courtney Dickson and Audrey McKinnon

About the Author

Andrew Kurjata

CBC Prince George | @akurjata

Andrew Kurjata is an award-winning journalist covering Northern British Columbia for CBC Radio and cbc.ca, situated in the traditional territory of the Lheidli T'enneh in Prince George. You can email him at andrew.kurjata@cbc.ca.