End of Greyhound service will have 'huge impact' on Manitoba's north, leaders say

Concern and disappointment are being felt across Manitoba's north as Greyhound plans to end its passenger bus and freight service across Western Canada by the end of October.

'I think there's some smart people in the north that are going to see some opportunity,' says mayor of The Pas

Greyhound Canada is ending its passenger bus and freight services in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and cancelling all but one route in B.C. (CBC)

Concern and disappointment are being felt across Manitoba's north as Greyhound plans to end its passenger bus and freight service across Western Canada by the end of October.

Cal Huntley, mayor of Flin Flon, Man., said it's a service his northern Manitoba city of roughly 5,900 counts on.

"It's a transportation system that connects the province together and allows timely access to services in the larger centres, be it retail or medical," he said.

"It's going to impact seniors and lower-income families big time."

The city, 630 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, straddles the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. While it does have an airport, the cost to fly is significantly higher than the bus service, Huntley said.

"For northern Manitoba, in particular … tie that together with the [Hudson Bay] rail situation and you have a lot of communities that are going to be feeling a lot more isolated than they do right now," he said.

"It's going to have a huge impact on the province."

On Monday, Greyhound Canada confirmed it is ending its bus services in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta, and cancelling all but one route — running between Vancouver and Seattle — in B.C.

'This is a national issue,' Greyhound's regional vice president for Western Canada Peter Hamel tells Power & Politics. 7:33

The company blames a 41 per cent decline in ridership since 2010, competition from subsidized passenger transportation services, new low-cost airlines, and the growth of car ownership.

New opportunity, mayor says

Jim Scott, mayor of The Pas, Man., said he has been fielding calls from people in his town about what they will do when the service ends.

"It's pretty disappointing," he said. "There's a segment of a population that depends on that kind of transportation. They don't have a driver's licence, they don't have unlimited incomes."

The town of around 5,500 people, located about 520 kilometres north of Winnipeg, acts as a hub for a number of smaller surrounding communities, Scott said, including for transportation to major centres. 

He hopes another group or company will step up to provide transportation services in the wake of Greyhound's departure.

"I think what we need to do is take a deep breath and let this sink in and figure out how we're going to move forward," he said.

"I think there's some smart people in the north that are going to see some opportunity here."

Transit growing issue for rural Canada

Barry Prentice, a professor of supply chain management at the University of Manitoba, called the shutdown inevitable. He said the bus company has been struggling despite abandoning routes in recent years and receiving subsidies from the former provincial government.

He said transit is an understudied topic in Canada and will remain a growing challenge for remote communities.

"It's also an issue that is going to become more critical because we have an aging population — more people who won't be able to drive or can't drive," Prentice said.

"The real question is, can they continue to live where they are or do they have to move to the city to get access to services? I think this is a larger problem that's going to build over time."

Prentice it will be up to the private sector and individual communities across rural areas to come up with new solutions.

For example, he points to the emergence of ride-sharing with digital services such as Uber. 

"There's two possibilities — you can wait for government to try and do something or you can try and do something yourself," he said.

"Greyhound wasn't serving everybody's needs, or the need necessarily as much as we would like, so maybe this is more of a spur to look for that other solution."

With files from The Canadian Press