BEPPLE – Time for governments to invest in long-distance bus service

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

NEWS OF THE PENDING shutdown of Greyhound bus service is devastating for many.  Solutions to replace Greyhound are needed now.

The Greyhound bus is the only viable option for many to get around.

I remember the first inter-city bus ride I took. I was about eight or nine years old. My sister and I took the bus by ourselves, traveling back home after a visit with our grandmother. Our grandmother didn’t drive and our parents had only one car. The bus let me and my sister spend precious family time with our grandmother.  It also opened the world of possibilities to me that bus travel gives.

All through high school and university I rode the Greyhound bus long distances across B.C. and Alberta. I didn’t drive, and the bus was the only way to travel.

These days, I probably only take the bus about once a year, but it’s an important service even so.

I took what will probably be my last Greyhound trip on July 2, from Vancouver to Kamloops. My travels had left me in Vancouver with no car after the July long weekend.  Rather than pay the much higher price airplane ticket, I elected to take an early morning bus.

Next to me on the July 2 bus was an older woman, coming to Kamloops to settle the estate of a friend.  She didn’t own a car and no longer drove. She was making frequent trips to Kamloops as the executor of the estate, and the bus made the most sense.

There were some young people and a few retired folks on the bus. There were also three or four international students arriving in Kamloops for the first time and a few European tourists as well.

At the front of the bus, were two young boys, not too much different in age than I was when I took my first bus trip decades ago back from visiting my grandmother.

Seniors, young people, low-income, newcomers and me: we all needed a bus to get to where we needed to be.

It’s not good enough to say that people will find a different way.   There no other ways in most of the province.

All sorts of people have proposed solutions to the pending Greyhound closure.  From ride sharing to airplanes, from trains to other companies picking up the routes.

Count me as one who wouldn’t be using ride sharing.  Seniors, kids and many others would probably also feel equally reluctant.

Kamloops is on a mainline of the railways, but there are no trains from Kamloops to Nelson, or Kamloops to 100 Mile House.  Half the B.C. towns that Greyhound serves don’t have train service.  Don’t count on train service to replace a bus.

The best option is if other companies pick up the routes.  Easier said than done.

Greyhound lives under complex government regulations.  In exchange for no competition, the bus line services both high and low usage routes. They charge customers more for servicing high usage routes, like Vancouver to Kamloops.  This subsidizes low ridership routes, like the Cariboo.

There will be no problem finding carriers to take on the high usage routes.

But if other carriers take on the low ridership routes, they will need to be subsidized.  They can’t run a service at a loss.

The provincial government already provides support for many crucial transportation services from buses to ferries, from Skytrain to traditional trains.  There is a need for the provincial government to ensure longer distance, inter-urban buses are available as well.

BC Transit and Translink provide services within and between cities and towns.  You can take a BC Transit bus from Kamloops to Vavenby, with stops in between, already.  There is transit all the way along the Sunshine Coast from the Langdale Ferry to Halfmoon Bay.  The Highway 16 bus serves the corridor between Smithers and Prince George.

Ferries, both free and paid, connect our province.  Much of the Kootenays and Vancouver Island would be virtually cut off without the services.  The Seabus has connected North Vancouver to downtown Vancouver for decades.

The West Coast Express train serves communities from Mission to downtown Vancouver.

Being able to travel across the province, for business, or pleasure, or medical reasons or family visits is a necessity.

Transportation is a key infrastructure to B.C. Without it families will be cut off from each other, university students won’t be able to travel easily to and fro, and those who can’t drive will be stranded. Both kids and seniors will be isolated from their families.

Billions have been sunk into Skytrain in Metro Vancouver. It’s time for the province and federal governments to invest in long-distance bus service as well.

Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.

About Mel Rothenburger (6691 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

1 Comment on BEPPLE – Time for governments to invest in long-distance bus service

  1. Bob Gamble // July 11, 2018 at 9:18 AM // Reply

    There is a tried and true model out there. (I borrowed below from Wikipedia.)

    Created in 1946 the Saskatchewan Transportation Company]was a wholly owned subsidiary of Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan, with a mandate to provide bus services carrying people and freight between major urban centres and to as much of the rural population as possible.

    The government of Saskatchewan shut down the company by May 2017. Couldn’t stand the thought of the public owning anything.

    The STC served a valuable service to the province. My recollection was having farm machinery parts being shipped in the fall ASAP to keep the combines moving.

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