By Terry Pedwell
THE CANADIAN PRESS
OTTAWA- Canadians left isolated by the shutdown of Greyhound services in western Canada and northern Ontario will have to wait two years for potential permanent replacements of the buses they’ve depended on, the federal government revealed Wednesday as it offered to help temporarily fill service gaps.
As Greyhound was making its final runs on routes it deemed unsustainable, federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced that the Trudeau government is open to helping affected provinces pay for bus service in communities where other companies have not taken over.
As well, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott said her department will subsidize bus services to remote Indigenous communities where needed.
The announcements leave many commuters “stranded’’ with no information or details on how they will get around, the Amalgamated Transit Union complained.
“For decades, Greyhound was the critical link connecting … small town and isolated First Nations communities with bigger urban centres, ensuring their safety, health and security,’’ ATU Canada president John Di Nino said in a statement. “Many can’t afford cars, and other transportation options are limited.’’
Greyhound announced in July that it would end service on all but one of its routes in western Canada, and in northern Ontario, effective Oct. 31.
Since then, several regional companies have come forward to offer bus services, taking over 87 per cent of the abandoned Greyhound routes, Garneau said.
Some of those companies have already begun operations while others are set to roll in the new few weeks, he said.
For the 13 per cent left without service, Ottawa will work with the provinces to come up with alternatives, Garneau pledged.
“The government of Canada is prepared to assist affected provinces in determining the best path forward and is open to considering avenues towards finding effective solutions,’’ he told an Ottawa news conference.
The government will also financially support start-up transportation companies in Indigenous communities through business development programs already in place, said Philpott.
“The federal government will be engaging with Indigenous communities to support those impacted by bus service cancellation, as well as supporting community-led solutions including new economic opportunities such as Indigenous-owned transportation businesses,’’she announced.
But a more permanent ground-transportation structure is needed nationwide, and Ottawa will work with the provinces and territories over the next two years to find a better, longer-lasting solution, Garneau said.
A working group will develop a “long-term plan to address mobility issues across the entire country, not just the West,’’ the minister said.
The Federation of Canadian Municipalities welcomed the announcement, saying cities and towns will need to be consulted as governments design new inter-city transportation programs.
Garneau said the federal government knows how much it is prepared to spend on subsidized bus services but won’t share the figure until later.
One company taking advantage of Greyhound’s departure is Regina-based Rider Express.
The company began operating a handful of 15-passenger minibuses shortly after the government-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company shut down its bus services in the spring of 2017.
Rider acquired five 50-seat buses and plans to begin passenger service on a Vancouver-Calgary-Winnipeg route on the Trans-Canada Highway this week, followed in November by a Highway 16 route linking Edmonton and Saskatoon, said manager Shauna Hardy. Both routes will directly replace Greyhound routes.
The interest from Saskatchewan residents has been “overwhelming,’’ she said, adding the company is being asked to take on more routes but has so far declined.
Buses have been used by the federal Non-Insured Health Benefits program to provide medical transportation services for Indigenous communities.
Those services will not be interrupted, Philpott said.
– with files from Dan Healing