In the wake of Greyhound’s Great Western Flake, it would seem that we public transport riders are only left with half a country.
We recognize that a significant number of Canadians will think “Boff! Who wants to go to Alberta anyway!”
We get that: interprovincial discord and contempt are fundamental Canadian values. Except that Vince and I do want to go to Alberta. And elsewhere in the @GreyhoundBus Slash & Burn Zone. This reality leads us to think about some things.
Four Post-Greyhound Flake considerations:
1) There are at least some other services available
Let me be very clear that I am not trying to wax poetic by celebrating what remains – after all, Greyhound’s cuts are major. Nonetheless, for people trying to get around starting November 1st, this consideration is the most practically urgent. Conversely, a highly effective way to ensure that there are never affordable and collective options for travelers is to advance the narrative that “There Is No Alternative” (beyond car ownership, airplanes, and Uber).
This last point, countering the truism that “To get to ______, you gotta’ drive there,” is a central reason why we created a bus map (and then this blog to support it). If someone in Western Canada is doing the equivalent of what we are doing for Ontario, I want to know about it! If no one is doing this yet, they should. Please…we will happily write a post about you and say nice things. 🙂
About those other services, in the wake of The Flake I perused the Red Arrow website for the first time. Similarly, I discovered Northern Express and Tofino Bus. I would not be surprised if there are issues with each one of these offerings, but there are also issues with Greyhound (see below). We cannot demand better quality mobility without taking stock of what is already in-place and supporting the pieces that are good. So let’s at least use that foundation to identify gaps and weaknesses.
Also, this situation has motivated me to look at inter-city rideshare in Western Canada for the first time (here is one example and here another). We have previously explored our mixed feelings on rideshares, so this mention is more recognition than endorsement; nonetheless, there is utility in recognizing this option.
2) There are some positive steps from governments
The disappearance of Greyhound from northern BC in 2017 stimulated a positive action plan. We realize that this is old news; nonetheless, good initiatives should be promoted.
Meanwhile, in his post last week, Vince mentioned the Alberta rural bus pilot project. This project was already underway, but with the announcement of The Flake, there was enough energy for a boost.
From our assessment, this project looks pretty similar to the programme that Washington State put into effect in the ‘90s…in the wake of some Greyhound cuts (imagine!). To that programme’s credit, we are impressed with the way that the “rural” (publicly-supported) routes are complementary to the “inter-urban” (completely private) trunk routes. Although I would suspect that the entire network would be better if it were simply public, I give Washington (and now Alberta) credit for supplementing what is already in place to the collective benefit of all involved.
Continuing with the Washington example, Albert does face the problem that its rural routes now have a lot fewer trunk routes to connect with. Which segues well into my next point, that…
3) Canadians support the idea of publicly-supported inter-city bus service
Vince also mentioned this poll in his post.
It is worth noting that there is precedent for such a move: the creation of VIA rail from the ashes of CN and CP passenger rail service. Again, we will not wax poetic on the utility (or cost!) of traveling VIA; what we will say is that people talk positively about “taking the train!” as if it is a completely different thing to, “ugh, taking the bus.” Somehow, the publicly-supported national train system enjoys a far better reputation than the national patchwork of privately-operated bus systems. Interesting…
4) There were *MAJOR* problems with Greyhound in Western Canada
As we lament the demise of Greyhound west of Sudbury, it is useful to faithfully remember their dry heave-inducing levels of performance. Vince has already exposed the company’s disregard for station location. After my last trip on @Greyhoundbus in Western Canada, I made a staunch commitment to never again subject myself to their soul-crushing “service”.
I will jettison the superfluous details of this trip to focus on the key elements:
-In 2009 I was traveling from my brother’s in Jasper to visit family, one hour north of Edmonton, in a town along Highway 2.
-That trip involved two buses; one traveling east from BC and then another heading north. I had to transfer in Edmonton. The scheduled layover was lengthy, at least 90 minutes. The departure time of my second bus might have been around 12:30pm.
-The bus arrived in Jasper late and left even later. At every stop heading into Edmonton, the driver would exit to chat with people as parcels were loaded onto the little trailer in the back. I compared our progress to the schedule and watched how we fell further and further behind with each stop.
-We arrived into Edmonton 2-3 hours late and I missed my connection.
-Livid with the blatant disinterest for the schedule, and not seeing a departure time for my next bus on the board, I joined the cue for Customer Service. The surly man behind the counter informed me of my one option: wait until midnight, when the next Highway 2 north bus was leaving.
-When I responded that I missed the connection because of operational incompetence, the Customer Service man answered: “we cannot guarantee arrival times from the mountains; because of weather.” [Contextual note: this was a pleasant, sunny day in late May.]
-Through gritted teeth, I asked about the complaints process. The man answered that there was no complaints process: THE only process that I needed to know was that I was to walk away from the counter and keep quiet until midnight.
In conclusion: the Greyhound Western Flake is a bad thing. But it is not as if inter-city public transport in Western Canada is good today and will instantly turn terrible on November 1. Although there is lots to be raged about, I am optimistic.
After all, despite being a loyal public transport rider, I have had a decade-long boycott of Greyhound in Western Canada. Relative to that last experience, things could only improve.