Last Greyhound bus rolls out of Whitehorse
Southbound trip on Wednesday marked the end of long-distance bus service down the Alaska Highway
The last Greyhound bus out of Whitehorse sold only seven tickets.
That was actually a little better than average for the route which has been struggling for years and had its last run south on Wednesday.
Brent Church drove the last bus to Watson Lake, and then on to Fort Nelson, B.C.
He's been driving the route for six years and says ridership was low. Sometimes the 56-seat bus would leave Whitehorse with only one passenger, he says.
Nevertheless, Church says people often told him the route was important to them.
"In Watson Lake, a lot of people depend on the Greyhound for coming to Whitehorse for medical appointments. So what are they going to do?" he asked.
Greyhound says about 50 jobs have been cut across Canada as some routes are cancelled, including those that service northern B.C. and Yukon. The service from Whitehorse to Watson Lake continued to Dawson Creek, B.C.
The company says that service started in Whitehorse in 1970.
Church has already found a new job.
He'll be driving a bus for the City of Whitehorse on a schedule that's far easier on his family life — no days away or long nights on the road.
He'll also have fewer chances of hitting a moose, caribou or bison which is a real risk on the Alaska Highway.
Church says he'll miss the open highway, the wildlife, and the long conversations he's had with passengers.
"I love this job, I love the Yukon. It's a pleasure bringing tourists up and hearing their expressions — 'huh! those are real animals!' — that king of thing. But I'm not going to miss the staying-up-all-night part," he said.
Route was recouping a fifth of its costs
Peter Hamel is Greyhound's regional vice-president for Western Canada.
He says the company had no choice but to cut the route. The 2017 average for the Yukon route was only three passengers per bus.
Hamel says the route was recouping about one-fifth of its costs.
"This is not something we were looking forward to. The route reductions are going to be a difficult change for passengers and communities and we deeply regret having to make these decisions," he said.
Hamel says ridership had declined by half on the Yukon route since 2010.
"It's just not sustainable," he said.
The company's freight service will continue from Whitehorse, accepting packages through Pacific Northwest Freight Systems which will later connect to the Greyhound system.
The Whitehorse terminal will be closed.
Travel for medical appointments
Cam Lockwood, chief administrative officer for the town of Watson Lake acknowledges that ridership was low, and says the hours were also very inconvenient for those travelling north to Whitehorse.
Riders would depart Watson Lake around 11 p.m. and arrive in Whitehorse "around four or five in the morning," Lockwood said.
The community is also served with a direct flight from Alkan Air twice a week. However, a one-way ticket on the flight from Watson Lake to Whitehorse is $325 per person.
Greyhound's website lists an adult ticket between Watson Lake and Whitehorse as $85.
Lockwood says Watson Lake's mayor and council raised the issue with the Yukon government but have seen no interest in creating a government-run replacement.
"It would be nice to have somebody fill those shoes," he said. "I'm not sure if it's the government or private industry. It's definitely a need."
Liard First Nation looking to create own service
There may be another option for people in Watson Lake, though. Chief George Morgan of the Liard First Nation says the First Nation is looking at starting a shuttle service to Whitehorse.
Morgan says the First Nation has signed a memorandum of understanding with a local company and is finalizing the details. The service would be available to all people of Watson Lake as well as people from Good Hope Lake and Lower Post, B.C.
"[Liard First Nation] is committed to ensuring that all LFN members are able to attend medical appointments in Whitehorse," Morgan wrote in an email to CBC.
He hopes the service will be running within a few weeks.
Meantime, the B.C. government has announced it will create a new service called BC Bus North to help communities losing Greyhound service.
A pilot project in B.C. will see communities in the north of the province served by bus once or twice a week.
The last Greyhound bus in <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Yukon?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Yukon</a> left for B.C. yesterday. The company has ended a service that started in 1970. <br><br>Here's my report from <a href="https://twitter.com/CBCNorthbeat?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CBCNorthbeat</a> <a href="https://t.co/DbkrMZbsmD">pic.twitter.com/DbkrMZbsmD</a>—@YukonPhilippe