Greyhound route cancellations highlight growing public transportation gap

When Greyhound abruptly cancelled several crucial bus routes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwestern Ontario, and rural British Columbia last week it left a gaping hole in public transportation options for many small communities.   In some ways the news is not surprising since public transportation has been in decline in Canada for decades and Greyhound’s recent decision is just the latest in a string of developments that have created a crisis for people living outside of urban centres.   While the government may be able to claim it is investing in public transport, that money largely flows to projects in vote-rich cities.  Now, Greyhound’s decision may force them to finally address rural problems too.

In the short-term, New Democrats are calling for a federal funding plan that ensures there is no interruption or reduction in bus service for affected communities.  They are asking the government to team up with the premiers of affected provinces and leaders of affected municipalities to quickly form that plan.  But apart from this immediate need, the party is renewing the call for the implementation of a National Transit Strategy to expand transport services and ensure that every Canadian has access to adequate, safe and affordable transportation.

Canadians who rely on bus services as their sole means of transportation will be cut off in many crucial ways.  People who travel for employment, health care, education, along with other critical public services, or even access to family will all be affected. This gap will also pose risks to the safety of these travellers as people turn to less safe modes of transportation such as informal ride sharing or hitch-hiking. 

Indigenous communities are concerned they will be disproportionately affected by the loss of bus routes.  They point to the lack of bus service along the Highway of Tears that was seen as a contributing factor to the murders and missing person status of many vulnerable women who had no other option than to hitchhike along that route.  In addition to that, there are concerns about basic services for these communities.  The Grand Chief of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs reminded the government that many people from Indigenous communities travel great distances by bus to receive adequate health care.  He is wondering how that will be delivered now.

At the moment, the federal government seems to be passing the buck to the provinces.  Transport Canada issued a statement in which it said “there are no federal government funding programs that would provide an operational subsidy for private intercity bus carriers.” They went on to suggest the responsibility lies with the province despite the fact the federal government is clearly responsible for inter-provincial transportation.

In the meantime there is transportation crisis in a country where the national identity was formed, in part, by a national railway that was a unifying project and source of pride.  Without getting too romantic, it can still be said that transportation links remain as important to Canada as they were when our country was founded. Canadians’ ability to travel is essential for strong economies and healthy communities.  That means ensuring communities across Canada have access to basic transportation services is undeniably in the national interest.