Day 6

Time for a Canada Post Bus? How creative transit could better serve the communities Greyhound is leaving

Greyhound's decision to exit western Canada has left many rural Canadians feeling stranded. But UBC's David Snadden says this is a chance to improve local transportation and that Europe's Postbus system could provide inspiration.
A 1983 Dodge Hi-Line Post Bus on display at the Postal Museum in London, England. (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

If David Snadden had it his way, soon-to-be-stranded Greyhound passengers in western Canada might get to know their mail carriers a bit better.

When Greyhound Canada announced Monday that it would end routes from Manitoba to B.C., saying they are no longer sustainable, Snadden's mind envisioned a bus network run by Canada Post.

"It reminded me very much of when I was in Scotland, when rural transport services were very threatened," Snadden, chair of the University of British Columbia's Rural Doctor program, said.

"What they did was introduce a Postbus service."

A worker moves a Greyhound bus after it was washed, in Vancouver, on Monday July 9, 2018. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

It's exactly what it sounds like: postal employees were both mail carriers and transit drivers with their vans outfitted with passenger seats.

Launched in 1967, Scotland's system replaced cancelled rail and bus routes. The Postbus ran until last year, but at its peak had 200 routes crossing the country.

"We have many communities — particularly Indigenous communities — which are not connected," Snadden said.

"While Greyhound going is a big loss, I just wonder whether, from out of this, may come some better solutions that would support more people."

Parcels and passengers?

While he was working as a physician in Scotland, Snadden's patients used the service to travel to and from appointments. But Snadden had another reason to hail the driver.

"We used to put blood samples on them to go to the laboratory," he said.

Similar networks were common in Europe throughout the 20th century, but now, only Switzerland's postbus service (and its iconic horn) remain. Canada's vast geography is also far different than routes that go up and down the Alps, he said.

With that in mind, Snadden says he's not "convinced that the European postbus solution this is the one for rural Canada."

"But the lessons from it would be ones of connectivity and whether we can collaborate," he said.

One approach Snadden would consider: piggybacking on the delivery of various goods and commodities.

"Groceries go, fuel goes, parcels go," he said.

No matter the route — or mode of transport — the biggest barrier is money.

Collaboration 'the future solution'

The B.C. government expanded public transit along the rural Highway 16 — the Highway of Tears — last September.

In Prince George, B.C., where Snadden lives, "it's not that far to where there's a community that the Northern Health bus comes."

Postbuses in Switzerland are known for their yellow paint. (PostAuto Schweiz AG)

That service, supported by the provincial government and operated by a private company, replaced a Greyhound route that ended in May.

Now, as Greyhound plans to depart western Canada and the prairies — save for one route between Vancouver and Seattle — the private sector is jumping in.

That's encouraging for Snadden who hopes innovative results can come out of adversity.

"I suspect if we can find ways of collaborating and linking different bus networks together that may be the future solution for us."

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