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Nationalized rural transit best solution to Greyhound discontinuations

July 20 2017 —

Early last week, Greyhound announced the cancellation of all but one bus route in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, with service halting after Oct. 31.

For many of the 24 per cent of undergraduate students at the University of Calgary with Canadian addresses outside of Calgary, Greyhound’s shuttered service is devastating, as they lose the cheapest and most accessible option for transport home. That extends to countless others who live in rural Canadian communities serviced by these routes, many of whom are Indigenous people who will be disproportionately harmed by the loss.

The elimination of these Greyhound routes makes mobility prohibitively expensive for many communities. With a steeper cost, lower frequency, service that makes minimal rural stops and Alberta-only operation, Red Arrow is a poor alternative. Driving is expensive and can be inaccessible, as is flying.

In ceasing operation of their prairie routes, Greyhound is making a business decision. As a private company, they’re free to make those kinds of choices. But having access to safe and affordable public transportation shouldn’t be limited to the services provided by companies whose goal is to create profit. That’s why Alberta needs to create a nationalized transit service for rural areas.

The Government of Alberta has a responsibility to step in to fill the gap that will be left by Greyhound’s departure. Connecting communities and giving their residents the ability to move between them is a public good, and one that’s far too important to leave to a company ultimately more concerned with their bottom line than with providing a reliable and affordable service to marginalized Canadians.

Unfortunately, calls from the federal opposition New Democratic Party were for Justin Trudeau’s Liberals to develop a “funding plan” for Greyhound, allowing them to keep routes open. That kind of corporate welfare would be a temporary fix, but the private sector has already proven that they are not capable of operating a sustainable inter-city bus transit system — Manitoba is now losing all its routes, even after that province’s government paid Greyhound millions in 2010 and 2011 to buoy the company.

Despite this, the solution Canada’s premiers came to at their Council of the Federation meeting was to request a federal bailout for Greyhound.

“We are calling on the federal government to work with Greyhound to temporarily maintain services in Western Canada so affected communities have time to develop alternative services,” said Alberta premier Rachel Notley in a July 20 statement. “That will give us the time we need to work together on a long-term solution.”

Nowhere in Notley’s statement is the “long-term solution” elaborated on. She highlights the Rural Transportation Pilot Project, a temporary program providing shuttle bus service to communities like Camrose and Grand Prairie, but that program is temporary and limited in scope. Expanded public rural transportation like that is a far better route than alternatives, like encouraging other private companies to fill the gap left by Greyhound.

The use of public funds is in order to support the nationalization of inter-city transportation, which is vital to the livelihoods of so many Canadians. Canada’s premiers should work towards preserving the mobility of rural residents before Greyhound’s Oct. 31 service shutdown.

— Jason HerringGauntlet Editorial Board

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