After years of service cuts and declining service quality, Greyhound’s corporate owners (UK based FirstGroup plc) are pulling the plug on bus service in all of western Canada. This is a huge threat to communities across the province. But it is also great opportunity to establish a much better publicly owned and operated highway bus network.
Like BC Ferries, Via Rail, and public transit in urban areas, good highway bus service will require significant public funding. Like urban public transit, highway bus service needs to operate as a unified network, with shared ticketing. A bunch of companies independently operating a few routes each is a recipe for failure.
B.C.’s NDP government has already established a public highway bus service as part of BC Transit. BC Bus North started long distance bus service last month. But BC Bus only has funding for 12 months. In the media release announcing BC Bus, Claire Trevena, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure says “Once the service is up and running, we’re going to … find a long-term solution.” Now Minister Trevena needs to step up and find a solution for the rest of the province.
The federal government funds Via Rail, which already sells tickets for connecting highway bus services to Victoria and other communities. A possible solution for inter-provincial highway bus routes is an expansion of Via’s mandate and funding to include inter-provincial Via Bus service. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown a willingness to spend billions to nationalize and expand an oil pipeline. Low carbon transportation for people should be his funding priority instead. Regardless of what name is on the buses, the federal government must step up with funding.
Good highway bus service is essential for safety from violent crime. The recently established B.C. Transit and BC Bus North service between communities on the Highway of Tears is largely about providing safe transportation for Indigenous women and girls. But the Highway of Tears isn’t the only place in B.C. where rural women have to choose between isolation and the danger of hitchhiking.
Highway crashes are also a crucial issue. Parents in rural areas all know the risks for young drivers travelling long distances on snowy highways. And many in our growing population of seniors don’t feel capable of long winter driving trips to medical appointments. Leaving more of the highway driving to professionals will save lives.
We also need to overcome our over-dependence on private automobiles to fulfill Canada’s Paris climate commitments. The federal-provincial Climate Framework commits B.C. and Canada to shift transportation spending away from urban freeway expansion and other projects that increase carbon pollution, which is an obvious way to fund a public highway bus service.
The B.C. NDP won’t be able to meet their promise to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from transportation by 30 per cent in only 12 years without much better highway bus service. Would you choose to save money and reduce carbon pollution by living without a car if that meant you couldn’t get to your hometown to visit your family?
Good highway bus service is also essential for the economic health of rural B.C., and the province as a whole. If you need a car to get there, tourism is unlikely to thrive now that so many younger people don’t own cars. And if you need a car to get to and from your town, both seniors and younger people are less likely to want to live there.
Greyhound’s dedicated frontline staff would love to help create a great highway bus network. A public bus service, employing existing Greyhound workers and hiring many more, is the way forward.
Joanne Banks, Eric Doherty, and Anita Strong
Members of Council of Canadians chapters in Campbell River, Victoria, and Kamloops respectively