Greyhound Bus is pulling out of half of Canada, and it is raising a lot of questions.
Up in Canada’s western provinces, the towns and cities are small and far apart. Many people depended on the Greyhound bus to get anywhere. Greyhound says they regret this, "But simply put, the issue that we have seen is the routes in rural parts of Canada — specifically Western Canada — are just not sustainable anymore." According to Canadian Press:
The company blames a 41 per cent decline in ridership since 2010, persistent competition from subsidized national and inter-regional passenger transportation services, the growth of new low-cost airlines, regulatory constraints and the growth of car ownership.
Another problem not mentioned is that the bus had become the last resort for people who had no other choice, and there were often too many surprises. If you mention riding the bus in Western Canada, people will still talk about the gruesome events of ten years ago when a passenger was beheaded and eaten.
In Alberta, Premier Rachel Notley describes how important buses were to her growing up and to people today.
"We know how much that service helped people, lower- and middle-income folks in those communities, get out to larger centres to reach medical services, shopping services, a whole bunch of other services in those larger centres.”
First Nations leaders warn that it will be dangerous, and are quoted in the Globe and Mail:
The Native Women’s Association of Canada said the move could “exacerbate the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.” First Nations regional Chief Terry Teegee said, “There’s one less option for First Nations women or any person, for safe, reliable transportation. Quite simply, as these options are leaving, it’s more likely there’s going to be more hitchhiking.”
A significant number of people depend on the bus. Jane Gerster of Global News asks the question that we repeat in our title: Is public transportation a human right? Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute notes that it is often considered so in cities, and is seriously subsidized, but “What we fail to do really explicitly is apply that to rural communities.”
The Washington Intercity Bus Program is a great example of how declining service was turned around to safeguard access, Litman says. Private companies are contracted by the state but paid largely through federal grants and communities are part of designing what their service looks like and picking the providers. “The state department of transportation takes responsibility for ensuring that there is bus service to small towns,” Litman says. “That’s what we failed to do here in Canada.”
Litman also notes the disparity between how governments treat people who own cars and those who don’t.
They spend millions and millions, a few billion dollars a year, to build and maintain highways. But once the highway is built, they have no way of measuring the degree that it serves non-drivers…. there’s no bus service on it and anybody who doesn’t have a car has to rely on hitchhiking or asking friends for a ride.
This is the crux of the matter; Rachel Notley says “this is a fundamental issue around the basic right to transportation in our communities, and an important economic development issue, as well.”
This is a difficult issue on both sides of the border; Jane Gerster points to an American study that called for basic access: “Transportation policy has the potential to expand economic opportunity for low-income Americans and underrepresented workers by connecting them to highway, transit, and rail construction jobs.”
Cars are polluting, expensive and should be a luxury, not a necessity. There should always be an alternative for those who can’t drive. I find it shocking that for half the country, there isn’t anymore.