By Collin Gallant on July 11, 2018.
Medicine Hat shuttle operators are already fielding calls from rural residents in Saskatchewan about the possibility of taking up routes that will be abandoned by Greyhound this fall.
And one Saskatchewan coach operator that just added Swift Current to his destinations says he hopes to extend that to Medicine Hat, then Calgary and beyond this fall as Greyhound Canada is leaving the market.
“We’re preparing a business proposal for Alberta and we’ll be applying for licences,” said Firat Uray, owner of Rider Express buslines.
His company was one of several shuttle services that started up or expanded last summer after the Saskatchewan government’s bus company was closed as a cost-cutting measure.
The company added a Swift Current-to-Saskatoon route last month, and Uray says he’s exploring creating a Regina-to-Calgary route, plus examining expanding that to Winnipeg and Vancouver.
“Were dealing with full-sized buses that are in better condition than what Greyhound has, and we’re planning B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba.”
On Monday, Greyhound announced it would close all but one Western Canadian route after years of declining ridership and increasing costs. About 400 employees are set to lose their jobs when the routes close on Oct. 31, and the company predicts 2 million customers will be affected.
That includes residents in 10 or more smaller communities between Swift Current, Medicine Hat and Brooks.
In Alberta, it makes stops in Walsh, Suffield, Brooks and Bassano.
“For small communities they were already hurt a year ago when a lot of the service was shut down,” said Isobel Hansen, of Hat-based Prairie Sprinter.
“Especially in Saskatchewan, people are calling to ask if we’re starting routes, because they were really hurt. But we have no plans.”
She said crossing provincial boundaries requires companies to be federally regulated, take on added insurance and a host of costs that could be too high for small business owners to overcome.
She added however, that smaller operators can offer service levels — such as at-the-door pickups — that customers now expect.
“A lot of people rode with us already over Greyhound because of our times,” said Hansen, whose company operates passenger vans that make major stops at hospitals, airports and shopping centres in Calgary.
Local company J&L Shuttle offers local service to Calgary and also a Lethbridge-to-Calgary route, but closed the Medicine Hat-to-Lethbridge route in late 2017.
Red Arrow operates on the Highway 2 corridor from Lethbridge to Edmonton, and this fall will add Camrose as part of a partially subsidized route in partnership with Alberta Transportation.
Rider Express currently offers three-times weekly from Swift Current to Saskatoon and Prince Albert, and daily return trips between Regina and Saskatoon.
Uray said he hopes to operate 55-seat coaches for long-distance travellers.
“Greyhound says that ridership is down, but we want to build that,” said Uray, describing seats, televisions, beverage service and other amenities.
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