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Federal Politics
BC Politics

Greyhound’s BC Shutdown Brings Fears for Vulnerable, Federal Response

Transport Minister Marc Garneau to look for solutions.

By Carlos Oen 18 Jul 2018 | TheTyee.ca

Carlos Oen is an intern at The Tyee from the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia. He is a Mexico City native who reports on politics, public policy, business and music.

The federal government will work with provinces, communities and the company on a plan to deal with Greyhound Canada’s decision to end service in Western Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.

Trudeau said he has asked federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau to find solutions.

Greyhound’s decision, announced last week, came as a total surprise, said Eric Carr, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1374, which represents the employees. About 440 drivers, mechanics and other staff will lose their jobs when service ends Oct. 31.

Carr blamed mismanagement for the end of service.

“The company was struggling because of, in our opinion, poor management decisions that came out of the U.S. over the last number of years,” he said. “We thought there would be a smaller Greyhound, not Greyhound gone.”

Carr also said the provincial government had missed an opportunity to provide subsidies that could have helped ensure a safe rural bus system in Northern B.C.

Greyhound had already cancelled services on some northern B.C. routes on June 1, and the provincial government stepped in to fund BC Bus North, operated by Pacific Western Transportation.

The government had already been funding transit from Prince George to Prince Rupert along the Highway of Tears, where the RCMP say 18 women, many of them Indigenous, have been murdered or disappeared.

Brenda Wilson is the former co-ordinator of the Highway of Tears Initiative, an advocacy effort by Carrier Sekani Family Services to improve transportation on the route. She says Greyhound’s decision will not have a major impact because the other services are in place.

“Greyhound has been struggling for so many years, prior to [when] these bus systems had been implemented,” she said. “At the time, the reason we lobbied for other transportation systems to be in place was because Greyhound was not reaching those isolated communities.”

Now other Interior communities face similar challenges as a result of Greyhound’s decision.

Greyhound said the decision to end services in the four western provinces was based on declining ridership in rural communities; increased competition from subsidized national and regional passenger services; the new entry of low-cost carriers and regulatory constraints.

Peter Hamel, Greyhound’s vice-president for Western Canada, said the number of passengers has fallen 41 per cent since 2010. Routes in Ontario and Quebec have not experienced the same declines.

“We have been riding in an operative deficit since 2004,” he said. “Within the last five years Greyhound has lost nearly $70 million.”

“This is a company that has been in B.C. since 1929,” Hamel said. “We believe in Greyhound and this is something that is not taken lightly. It is regrettable that these decisions have to be made.”

B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena said she too was surprised by the decision. “I hope local operators will see an opportunity to bring a badly needed service to the parts of the B.C. most affected by Greyhound’s decision,” she said in a news release. “The Passenger Transportation Board will be moving new inter-city bus applications to replace Greyhound to the front of the line.”

The shutdown will hurt the most vulnerable, she said.

Trevena and ministers from the three other affected provinces met last week to discuss the closures and agreed to write the federal government to ask for help.

The union’s Carr said Greyhound failed to allow the employees to join the company in restructuring the business to avoid the shutdown.

“I believe there is a place in Canada for a well-managed, well-thought-out, over-the-road bus business,” said Carr.

The union is putting a planning committee together to respond to the closure and will reach out to politicians seeking subsidies that could keep Greyhound operating in Western Canada.

Carr said Greyhound is committed to honouring the defined benefit pension plan covering the vast majority of employees. “They are not in a bankruptcy situation. They are still going to continue to run a portion of Greyhound Canada at least.”  [Tyee]

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