London

Greyhound's demise raises safety, cost concerns for students

The vice-president of Western University's students' union says the London, Ont.-based school will push governments to help create new inter-city transportation options now that Greyhound has permanently shut its bus service in Ontario.

Western's students' union wants governments to address transportation accessibility issues

An empty Greyhound bus station in downtown London, Ont. For years a cheap and reliable way to travel between cities in Canada, the company permanently pulled the plug on its Ontario operations on Thursday. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

For a segment of Western University students, an end-of-semester scramble for a Greyhound bus ticket was an annual tradition. 

Hours after their last exam, the race was on to find an empty seat on a bus headed home, whether it was Toronto, Windsor, Ont., or beyond. 

"Traditionally, if you're trying to get a ride home after exams, they completely sell out," said Mackenzy Metcalfe, vice-president of of external affairs for Western's Universty Students' Union (USC). "A lot of times there will be no Via rail tickets, no Greyhound tickets, because everybody is trying to travel home at the exact same time."

Over the past year, Greyhound buses in Ontario have been idle due to COVID-19 restrictions and concerns about spreading infection.

Last week came the final blow as Greyhound announced it was permanently shutting down operations in Ontario. The decision eliminates an essential option for travel between cities for low-income earners, non-drivers and students.

Metcalfe said Greyhound's demise raises concerns about transportation affordability for students, and she wants governments to address the issue.

"For students who live in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] and who don't have a car, it's going to be a huge accessibility issue," she said. 

Students using other means to get around

With Greyhound gone, Metcalfe said students are turning to other options to get to and from London on the cheap, including ride-sharing with strangers they connect with online. But that raises significant safety issues, she said.

"With COVID-19, that comes with an increased risk. When you're in a car with someone else, you enter their bubble, so that's a huge concern." 

Beyond COVID-19, Metcalfe said ride sharing also raises safety concerns for students, women in particular. 

With Greyhound bus service permanently halted, students are turning to other ways to get around, something that concerns the students' union at Western University. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

"It's really nerve-wracking to go on a Facebook group and rely on a stranger to get you to your address," she said. "They pick you up and so they know where you come from and they drop you off."

Metcalfe said the USC plans to alert senior governments, getting them to look at inter-city transportation as a whole. 

"We're going to work with our provincial partners, the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, to make sure affordable transportation is available for students." 

The end of Greyhound creates the potential for other transportation providers to enter the market, but they'll somehow have to find a way to succeed where Greyhound failed. 

Insurance costs cited as issue for transport providers

Brad Rice, executive vice-president of Robert Q Travel and Airbus, was disappointed to see Greyhound shutter its operations, but isn't surprised. He said its business model was under pressure even before the pandemic.

"You need frequency of service, people want to go when they want to go. You need a significant load factor and you need to have profitability to go with it." 

Rice cites rising insurance costs as a huge issue in the ground transportation industry in recent years.

"That cost has become astronomical. Those things put a lot of pressure on the bottom line." 

Rice said he expects an upstart company will emerge to meet the market demand of passengers who once rode Greyhound. 

"It's just a matter of time, but COVID has put a stall on a lot of things. We'll have to get through COVID first to see if the demand is there." 

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