Citing operating losses by Greyhound and potential loss of its inter-city bus service in B.C., the Passenger Transportation Board has approved route reductions affecting communities across the province.
The board approved Greyhound's proposal to reduce its minimum route frequency on 15 routes and eliminate one route.
The cuts mean the loss of three daily buses out of Kamloops: the 9:45 a.m. to Vancouver, noon to Edmonton and 4:30 p.m. to Prince George. Many rural communities in the region will go from two buses a day to one.
And the mayors of those communities are upset. They blame declining service for Greyhound's loss of ridership in the first place.
"If they got what they were asking for, that's deplorable," said Barriere Mayor Bill Humphreys. "It begs the question, the Greyhound service here, of making it so that nobody even wants to use it."
Mayor John Harwood of Clearwater said his community loses one of two buses daily and it happens to be the daytime service. Fewer passengers will want to catch a bus in the middle of the night, he said.
"It's certainly very detrimental to passenger traffic."
Harwood cited passenger complaints of poor service over the holiday period as a glaring example of poor service.
"Greyhound's lost sight of catering to the public," Humphreys said. "That's the problem."
Passengers said cuts will make travel between communities even more difficult for those without a car.
Darren Baillie dropped by the Kamloops Greyhound depot Wednesday afternoon to buy a ticket for a ride to Nanaimo today. But the ticket booth was closed for two more hours, a scheduled closure.
"It's not like it used to be," said Baillie. "It's the worst I've ever seen service here."
Phyllis James, who sat in a waiting area, said the reductions will hurt people in small towns.
"A lot of people depend on that," she said. "Some people don't have a vehicle."
The City of Kamloops was among communities that made submissions on Greyhound's application.
"It seems counter-intuitive that at the same time they're trying to improve business, they're reducing service," said Mayor Peter Milobar.
By eliminating 3.5 million kilometres, the company estimates it will save $6.5 million.
Grant Odsen, Greyhound's regional manager of passenger service, said the cuts reflect economic reality.
"Greyhound in the province of B.C. last year lost close to $18 million," he said. Ridership demand isn't supporting the schedule, he added.
"It's a long-term trend, I guess you could say," Odsen said. "The schedules are historical; they've been there a long time."
Rationalizing schedules is a lengthy process, so the company held off on some changes to group all of them in a single application, Odsen said.
Greyhound attributes ridership decline on many of its routes to urbanization that has reduced rural populations, changes that have made cars ubiquitous, the proliferation of government-subsidized public transportation services and regulatory regimes that prevent them from adapting to changing market conditions.
In its decision, the board accepted that those factors may have affected ridership.
The average bus in the company's B.C. fleet is more than 11 years old, and the company has pledged to update the fleet with the prospect of profitability.
The cuts affect service to Merritt, Chase, Sorrento and Salmon Arm along with Kamloops. As well the route frequency between Alberta and Barriere (with stops in Valemount, Blue River, Avola, Clearwater and Little Fort) will drop to one trip daily from two.
On most routes, the company is required to issue two weeks' public notice of the reductions.
The board paid particular attention to the health needs of rural communities and senior residents who do not drive, noting that government-subsidized Health Connections buses are available in some areas, including between Merritt and Kamloops.
The TNRD, District of Barriere and Columbia Shuswap Regional District were among local governments across the province that made submissions on the application.
Venture Kamloops said in a separate submission that the community and region will be negatively affected by the loss of some passenger and freight service.
More northerly communities, such as McBride, are worried that the cuts are likely to increase hitchhiking in remote areas, a troubling possibility given the tragic history of the Highway of Tears.
In approving the changes, the board stated it has to balance public need with the operator's ability to maintain financial viability.
"… It is in the broader public interest to maintain services on GCTU's scheduled routes, even with decreased options or scheduling inconveniences, than to have GCTU abandon its B.C. operation altogether in order to stem its severe operating losses."
The board found that the company will provide an adequate level of service despite the cuts.
* * *
Greyhound needs to communicate better, managers agree
Recent closure of the Greyhound dispatch centre in Kamloops was not to blame for passenger service problems over Christmas, a company spokesman said on Wednesday.
But Grant Odsen, Greyhound’s regional manger of passenger service, acknowledged that the company could do a better job of communicating with customers when problems occur.
COPE 378, which represents some Greyhound employees, blamed the closure of the Kamloops dispatch last October for the problems. Twelve workers were laid off in October when the dispatch was shut down.
“These are the people who were responsible as part of their job for going to talk to passengers and trying to resolve these kinds of issues,” said Heather Lee, COPE vice-president.
“They may not have been able to fix the buses, but they at least would have been able to help passengers know what to expect.”
Odsen attributed the holiday problems — there were waits of up to three hours in Kamloops and, just before Christmas Eve, dozens of passengers were stranded overnight — to winter weather and mechanical breakdowns that couldn’t be avoided.
Odsen said the dispatch centre here was closed as part of a consolidation of dispatches across Canada.
“Where the largest issues come in, in my opinion, at the Kamloops terminal we have done a poor job of communicating with passengers about delays,” he said. “That is related to the dispatch closure.”
Drivers and other terminal staff need to be more adept at communicating, he said.