Greyhound lobbied Ottawa to backstop rural routes for years to no avail, says executive
'No private sector company would be sustainable in any of these regions without some sort of assistance'
Greyhound Canada says it has been asking the federal government to backstop funding for its rural routes in Western Canada for years without success, despite concerns that shuttering the service would put Indigenous women at risk.
"Greyhound has made it clear on numerous occasions, and over a long period of time, that no private sector company would be sustainable in any of these regions without some sort of assistance," Peter Hamel, Greyhound's regional vice president for Western Canada, told CBC News Network's Power & Politics.
"We were not asking for a full funding or any type of assistance to 100 per cent. We were looking for a gap funding assistance which would have been the difference between the money we make and the money that it costs us to operate this [service]," Hamel told host Vassy Kapelos.
On Monday, Greyhound Canada announced it was cancelling passenger and freight routes in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan and would retain only one route in B.C. between Seattle and Vancouver. All Greyhound routes in Ontario and Quebec will continue to operate except for one: the Trans-Canada, which links a number of smaller communities between Winnipeg and Sudbury, Ont.
The company said it is making the move because it has been losing money in Western Canada since 2004 and could no longer afford to swallow the losses.
That move alarms the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC), which said the route cancellations are putting the "safety of Indigenous women, girls and gender-diverse people" at risk.
"The lack of safe transportation in and out of communities creates more vulnerability for Indigenous women, girls, and gender-diverse people by encouraging travellers to resort to less safe means of transportation such as hitch hiking or walking unsafe highways," the group said in a statement issued Tuesday.
Hamel said Greyhound shares concerns about the safety of Indigenous women and girls and has brought them up every time the issue has been raised between the bus company and the federal government.
According to the Commissioner of Lobbying of Canada, a lobbyist working for Greyhound met with officials at Transport Canada twice in the last six months — once in March and once in January — to talk about transportation.
Transport Minister Marc Garneau's office told CBC News that there are no federal funding programs to subsidize private bus companies because there has not been a requirement for such a program.
"In 2010, a task force of the provinces and the federal government recommended that there was no need for a national program to subsidize the operations of intercity bus carriers, but that individual jurisdictions could subsidize specific routes and carriers on a case-by-case basis," the statement from Garneau's office said.
"Since that time, some provinces have chosen to create their own bus services or provide subsidies for service in localized areas."
Hamel said that what may have been true when the report was filed isn't true today, and without some kind of federal backstop to fill the gap between the cost of running the service and declining revenue from ticket sales, the cancellations will go ahead as announced.
"This is a decision that is going to be taking effect on October 31 even if there was some organization or entity that came up with money within a certain province," Hamel said. "This is a national issue. This isn't just a specific regional issue, and unless this problem is solved on a national level it makes no sense to just have pockets in operation."
A spokesperson for the Department of Indigenous Services told CBC that the federal government is aware Greyhound's decision to cancel routes will "have an impact on some First Nations people who currently use commercial bus services to access health care services not available in their home communities."
"Indigenous Services Canada is analyzing the situation and will work closely with other federal departments, provincial governments, First Nations and other stakeholders to find solutions to challenges this situation may pose for medical transportation."
Meanwhile, Thunder Bay's Kasper Transportation is stepping in to fill some of the void left by Greyhound and will launch a number of new routes in Manitoba and Saskatchewan this fall.