If you’ve been paying any attention to the news at all over the past few weeks then you’re going to be aware of Greyhound’s announcement that it will be cutting all bus service in BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba; with routes ceasing operations by the end of October. Needless to say, we Dudes were devastated. Aside from some small regional carriers, Greyhound was the sole operator of intercity public transport in these provinces (given that VIA Rail is virtually only useful for tourists west of Ontario) and we’re still trying to process the sheer scale of the issue, and the huge blow to mobility the cuts represent.
In the last post, we highlighted a letter that I (Vince) wrote to my MPP. It was a bit of a knee-jerk letter; as at the time I felt that SOMETHING needed to be done immediately to impress on our elected representatives the importance of responding to the cuts. Further actions of this nature will continue from both of us but now that a few weeks have passed since the announcement, it is a good time to take stock of how these cuts are perceived in the country at large and what next steps can be fought for.
Since Greyhound’s announcement, the media has been awash in stories of how the end of bus service will affect residents of these provinces. This attention is, of course, a good thing but I can’t help but notice a trend. Most of the stories I am able to find, focus on how small towns are being cut off and what this means for seniors going to larger centres for medical appointments and shopping. It’s critical that such stories are shared, as indeed, intercity bus service was important to allow people to age in the communities where they are, surrounded by friends and family. Having a bus to other towns and cities allows seniors to also not have to rely on children with cars to ferry them around. My own grandparents sometimes took buses to visit family for many years before becoming too frail and I really don’t want to downplay the effect of the cuts on lower income rural residents and on seniors.
However, there is something missing from the media coverage. It’s hard to describe in dry language so let me give you a snapshot of the times I rode Greyhound in Alberta.
When living in Edmonton, I would often head down to Calgary for a long weekend to see friends. Before Greyhound moved their terminal to a silly and inaccessible location it was simply the most frequent and affordable option between the two cities. Furthermore, since Greyhound had an entire network in the province it was easy to book a ticket through to Canmore or Banff if I wanted to take in some mountain air. (and laugh at tourists running from July hailstorms)
When riding these buses I certainly noticed a fair number of seniors boarding, especially if I rode the local bus that stopped in places like Wetaskiwin on their way south.
However, they were not the only people riding with me. If I was ever asked, I could tell reporters of the couple I met who had just moved to Edmonton and wanted to see the mountains for the first time. They were probably in their mid 30’s did not want to drive such a long distance, as it was stressful and would rather chat with other people on the bus or just sit with one another. I could also mention the guy who I saw over and over again on those buses; I found out he worked in the same office building as me and went to visit his sister several times per year. He also took the bus because driving Alberta Highway 2 can be a death-defying experience.
On the way to Banff, I was always surrounded by Calgarians taking the bus to the mountains to avoid traffic and actually enjoy the scenery as it went by; not to mention the tourists who come from countries where taking public transport is a normal part of everyday life.
The point in all this reminiscing is that bus riders come in all shapes, sizes, ages and income levels and having intercity public transport allows them all to live full lives whether they cannot afford to drive, don’t want to or physically can’t. I understand why journalists tend to focus on the ‘obvious’ stories in any given case, but when discussing bus cuts, focusing solely on small-town seniors or hitchhiking teenagers makes buses and those who ride them seem marginal to most of Canada; especially to the policymakers who are the ones responding to the cuts.
I can’t say for certain, but my worst fears seem to be playing out. Since these cuts “seem” to be affecting those remote from working age voting Canadians, policy responses to the cuts have been anemic at best. BC Transportation minister Claire Trevena claims that her options are “limited” and her plan thus far is to have applications from other operators who hope to replace Greyhound routes fast-tracked. While the province has invested in limited intercity bus service, particularly along the infamous “highway of tears” between Prince George and Prince Rupert, the government there seems to want to leave any solution to the private sector (but of course, will keep subsidizing car ownership)
In Alberta, the response has been slightly more positive; the government there has already been experimenting with rural bus pilot programs and decided to quickly implement two more. These are government subsidized routes with private contractors between Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, as well as between Red Deer and Innisfail; both will have stops in between at smaller communities. No information is available yet as to schedule but I do like how the routes are structured to provide intercity service (EG Medicine Hat-Lethbridge) as well as stop in rural communities along the route; which will serve a wide variety of riders ranging from students and seniors unable to afford cars to people who would just rather not drive. I hope to see Alberta’s government take an even more aggressive approach in supporting a province-wide public transportation system in the wake of these cuts but they are a good start.
Unfortunately, this is where the good news ends. Saskatchewan, which cut its own government-run intercity bus line recently has made no moves to plug the gap and Manitoba seems similarly uncaring. It’s interesting to note that in Alberta, Canada’s most “free market” province, at least according to stereotypes, the government has taken the most steps towards funding intercity transit.
I’m encouraged by a recent poll that suggests a majority of Canadians would support governments of all levels stepping in to either subsidize or directly run intercity buses. It’s up to us to make it known that buses are for all Canadians and that we will not stand for cuts any longer. I encourage everyone to join the Dudes to discuss this with their friends, family and elected representatives. Together, we’ll be able to reverse the cuts.
PS: This post is in no way suggesting that the needs of seniors and other marginalized communities are in any way unimportant to be or to Canada. As a young adult, it gives me a lot of happiness to see seniors out and about, enjoying their lives. We’ll all grow old someday (I plan to be the most badass grandpa) and we can’t ignore our seniors’ transportation needs. Similarly, the bus cuts will affect a lot of aboriginal communities and in the interests of reconciliation, we can’t let this stand.
My point here has been to highlight the fact that bus riders include all sorts of Canadians. We Dudes have been fighting against the idea that having a car is for ‘normal’ people and buses only for those at the margins of society. The sooner we change this notion, the sooner we can have a more just country for all.