September 26th, 2018

Greyhound aftermath: Now what?

By Medicine Hat News Opinon on July 13, 2018.

Greyhound’s decision to cancel service on the Prairies has sparked interest and debate in public transport that has typically been of little concern to most.

There were even government officials in affected areas questioning why Greyhound had not informed them that cancelling the service was in the cards.

Greyhound is, after all, a private service and had no obligation to inform government.

Greyhound has been connecting small communities for more than 80 years. Its geographic coverage area had not changed much but the frequency of its service had, Stuart Kendrick, senior vice president Greyhound Canada, told the News earlier this year.

Alberta Transport Minister Brian Mason told the News earlier this year, that the government is highly supportive of public transit in general and is well aware that it is more cost effective in larger centres.

“We are also aware that there’s an aging population, including in smaller centres and rural areas, that may not necessarily have access to a car but still have to get to medical appointments, shopping, they have to visit their family and so on,” said Mason.

However, Kendrick said a high percentage of Greyhound’s passenger were between 18 and 24 and only after that age demographic came seniors.

This could mean seniors still need the service most but are perhaps not able to cope with the very long journeys typical of Greyhound.

Kendrick felt a government subsidy for a private carrier was necessary in order for the service to continue. That theme has been regurgitated by others throughout this week. It would be unfair, though, to subsidize some, creating an unfair playing field.

Mason has talked about the need to link smaller communities and a pilot project has been developed to work with municipal transit systems to provide this service.

Perhaps Kendrick is right in that there may not be enough passengers requiring public transportation from places such as (for instance) Maple Creek or Oyen to Medicine Hat. That usually requires a more creative approach by someone in the area with an entrepreneurial spirit who sees a limited need and steps in to provide a unique service. This may be a carpool approach or very tailored service.

The important role here is for reduced red tape so that creative approaches to solve the problem are not thwarted by government. That is not to say there is no need for some safeguards but many of those are already in place.

It would also be necessary to reduce the onerous red tape and expense of providing a service that crosses provincial boundaries. Requiring a special licence to operate in Saskatchewan and another in Alberta (which is the current regulation) will continue to make a service from Maple Creek to Medicine Hat cost prohibitive.

Other options to make private transit solutions more profitable would be to allow them to transport freight. Switzerland is a good example of this with its equivalent of Canada Post mini buses not only moving mail from town to town but taking paying passengers as well. The mail has to reach every little community no matter how small so it makes sense in every way. Why not adopt that here?

With the push to reduce carbon emissions there should be every incentive to create more options.

“If it’s convenient enough and if it’s affordable people will take public transit,” Mason said.

Many seniors talk of the days when they could climb on a passenger train in Medicine Hat and head to Toronto. Others have promoted the idea of passenger rail service to Calgary but so far there has been no advancement in this area. Perhaps some of the carbon tax revenue should be going towards building a passenger rail service for electric train service — clean efficient and cost effective.

(Gillian Slade is a News reporter. To comment on this and other editorials, go to https://www.medicinehatnews.com/opinions, email her at gslade@medicinehatnews.com or call her at 403-528-8635.)

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