Liard First Nation starts bus service to replace Greyhound
Watson Lake Shuttle & Freight steps up to carry passengers and goods along Alaska Highway
A Yukon First Nation has stepped up to replace the Greyhound bus service that connected Watson Lake to Whitehorse.
The new service is called Watson Lake Shuttle & Freight.
The venture is a partnership between the Liard First Nation's new development corporation, First Kaska GP Ltd., and the Watson Lake company KPI Northern.
The partnership comes after Greyhound ended its long-distance bus service down the Alaska Highway.
- Last Greyhound bus rolls out of Whitehorse
- Greyhound to stop serving B.C.'s Highway of Tears, Yukon and Vancouver Island
Medical travel a main reason
Yvon Goupil has been driving the bus. He said he feels proud when community members tell him it's providing a needed service.
He said many customers rely on the bus for medical travel.
"We're happy to be able to provide the service [to] the Liard First Nation, to uplift our citizens and our members and to help the community prosper for our future."
The new bus is already running three times a week.
Liard First Nation Chief George Morgan said it's potentially a win-win proposal for the First Nation.
"This is a possible opportunity for us to make some revenue, while we also ensure that our membership have the service they need to get to their medical appointments," he said.
Right now we're not getting the high numbers of passengers that we initially might have hoped.- Chief George Morgan, Liard First Nation
The service is using a new 15-seat passenger bus.
Morgan hopes this size will prove more appropriate than Greyhound's larger coach buses, which were mostly empty.
The seats on the bus can also be removed to allocate more room for cargo or passengers as needed.
Still looking for long-term help
The new service operates on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, taking people on the five-hour drive between Watson Lake and Whitehorse.
So far the company has hired one driver, but it's still looking for "good, long-term help," said Morgan.
The Liard First Nation is also seeing what subsidies are available to help the First Nation-owned business.
Right now, Morgan admits that ridership is low, but said the freight service seems to be a reliable source of revenue.
One steady client is the Yukon Hospital Corporation.
The Watson Lake bus has been hauling lab material, such as blood tests, to ensure it gets to Whitehorse's hospital and laboratories within 24 hours.
The Hospital Corporation had previously relied on Alkan Air's flight service, which is being cancelled.
"The freight service may turn out to be the saving grace for this service, because right now we're not getting the high numbers of passengers that that we initially might have hoped," said Morgan. "But we're also optimistic as we see that there's a trend upward."
Many northern communities are now wondering how to fill the gap left by Greyhound. The Yukon government has said it will not consider running a similar program to the one in B.C., where the province is launching a pilot project for government-subsidized service in remote areas.
Morgan said the First Nation has already learned a few lessons about starting a business in rural transit.
"What we've learned is that the ridership may not be as high as you think — so maybe hauling freight is a good way to subsidize the expense," he said.
The Liard First Nation is stepping up to replace the <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Greyhound?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Greyhound</a> bus line between <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Whitehorse?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Whitehorse</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WatsonLake?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WatsonLake</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/Yukon?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#Yukon</a>.<br><br>The service is needed, says driver Ivan Goupil, as people need to reach medical appointments. <a href="https://t.co/8uQTN4Y0Z0">pic.twitter.com/8uQTN4Y0Z0</a>—@YukonPhilippe