British Columbia

Trains, planes or hitchhiking: Greyhound users on how they'll get around without the bus

Greyhound Canada says fewer people are taking the bus, but those who still use it say it is an essential connection to work and family.

There are alternatives in northern B.C., but they aren't always affordable or safe

Lyle Heldson, of Prince George, says he must hitchhike or spend the night in a hotel he can't afford if he wants to visit family in Smithers, B.C. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Greyhound Canada has said it wants to drop several routes in northern British Columbia, citing a decline in ridership of more than 50 per cent over the last seven years, and increased competition from online ride-sharing services.

While complaints about Greyhound are easy to find, for some it's the only option.

'Do I have to hitchhike now?'

Several people interviewed said they use the bus to visit family in remote northern B.C. communities.

"My cousin lives in Farmington, just outside of Dawson Creek," said Sharon Naperotti of Penticton, B.C.

"So I take the Greyhound bus from Penticton to come visit. Do I have to hitchhike now?" 

Via Rail offers passenger service from Prince Rupert east to Jasper, but the service is often stalled while waiting for cargo trains. It also doesn't extend into the Peace region in northeast B.C. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Last week, Greyhound Canada appied to B.C. regulators to drop five routes, four in northern B.C. It cited decreased ridership and more ride-sharing companies, which it says have cut into demands for service.

On Haida Gwaii, Carm Dee said her son uses Greyhound to visit her from his new home in Merrit, about 90 kilometres south of Kamloops.

"I don't know if there are any alternatives, he would probably have to travel to the nearest town where the train stops, take that to Prince George, spend the night, then take the train to Rupert, the ferry to Haida Gwaii. Or go to nearest airport... probably well over $1,000 to fly."

Others cited Greyhound as the only affordable option.

"As a student for several years, I used the Prince George to Hazelton and Kamloops to Hazelton routes," said Robynne Lobban.

"I think without this service in the north, this will be putting people at risk as they will have to use alternative methods and may even resort to hitchhiking on the 'Highway of Tears,'" Lobban said.

The name refers to the highway between Prince George and Prince Rupert where many women have disappeared or been killed over the years.

Transit, rail don't cover entire north​

Some cited Via Rail as an alternative, including Tom Sayle, who takes the train from Prince George to visit in-laws in Burns Lake, which is roughly 230 kilometres west of the city.

"The train goes every other day, it's $30 and it's very convenient," Sayle said. "So maybe Via can up their service and say goodbye to Greyhound."

However, the train doesn't extend into northeast B.C., where Greyhound also wants to discontinue routes.

Recent public transit options only cover a portion of northwest B.C.

New public transit options only extend from Prince George to Moricetown, meaning without Greyhound, Prince Rupert, Dawson Creek and Valemount would not be reachable - without a private vehicle - from Prince George. (OpenStreetMap Contributors, CartoDB)

Lyle Heldson, who lives in Prince George said it's not a good option for visiting his family near Smithers, roughly 370 kilometres west of Prince George.

"It goes from here to Burns Lake and the next day it goes from Burns Lake to Smithers," Heldson said.

"If I do take that transit bus ... I still have to hitchhike 31 miles."

The city of Prince Rupert had previously opted out of funding the public transit plan, in part because of the availability of Greyhound. Mayor Lee Brain said that may change now.

"We need to ensure that there's a continuous link from Prince Rupert to Prince George," Brain said. "I'll be reaching out to [Greyhound] to discuss options, and reach out to the province, as well."

Lessons from Vancouver Island

Greyhound also wants to end its service on Vancouver Island altogether, after dropping most its runs in 2013.

However, many of the company's former routes have been picked up by the Tofino Bus All Island Express.

Owner Dylan Green said he believes the secret to success is frequency and convenience of runs.

After Greyhound discontinued most of its Vancouver Island service in 2013, it was replaced by Tofino Bus All Island Express, which is expanding the frequency of its inter-city connections. (Tofino Bus)

"You really create your own ridership," Green said. "Once you start dropping routes and frequencies, that's when you start to struggle."

He said if people can count on a regular bus they won't turn to alternatives.

He also said if someone wanted to start a new bus company to replace Greyhound in the north, it would be wise to work with tourism operators such as ski hills to design schedules.

"Use your local knowledge," he said. "It will be interesting to see if someone steps up."

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