Slowly but surely, Greyhound Canada is pulling itself out of Manitoba as it turns tail and runs from unprofitable routes.
The latest round of cuts were announced last week — as of July 1, Greyhound will drop 12 bus routes and scale back others in the province. For western Manitoba, affected routes include the Minnedosa-Erickson-Russell route, which will be permanently cancelled, and the noon Winnipeg-Brandon and 3 p.m. Brandon-Winnipeg runs.
The Winnipeg-Brandon routes via Highway 2 and Highway 16 will also be cancelled, as will the Winnipeg-Carman-Brandon route via Highway 3.
Unfortunately for Greyhound and the affected communities, the writing was on the wall. A little less than two years ago, Greyhound announced that it planned to cease operations in northern Ontario and Manitoba.
As part of its threat, the company sought between $15 million and $20 million in grants from Ottawa and several provinces to keep operating — something we suggested was little more than a bullying tactic.
To completely cease operations would have left thousands of riders without a viable transit alternative to Winnipeg for medical and other services. Greyhound Canada’s senior vice-president, Stu Kendrick, told media at the time that bus operators are forced by provincial regulations to subsidize money-losing service to small-town Canada.
And of all the routes in Manitoba servicing 160 cities and communities, Kendrick said not a single one had been profitable.
Over the years, Greyhound has gotten used to getting its own way when it comes to forcing the closure of rural routes it says are not worth the effort to service.
However, while Greyhound’s behaviour on this issue has not been particularly endearing, we cannot fault the company for trying to operate its business in a profitable manner. Every year, there are fewer and fewer riders buying tickets.
That’s an awful lot of bus for two or three people, and a huge waste of fuel and wages for drivers. No passenger service — no business — can continue to operate under these unprofitable conditions.
But the reality of the business situation received short shrift from at least a few regular Greyhound bus passengers in Brandon. As the Sun reported on Saturday, passengers we spoke to at the Rosser Avenue bus terminal were frustrated by news of the route cuts.
Following the company’s abrupt announcement in 2009, the government stepped in with a promise to pay
$3 million in subsidies per year over the next two years to keep the service running, all the while making plans to open up the bus transport market to competition.
The province will partially deregulate intercity bus transport on July 1, allowing companies to eliminate or modify service on routes as long as they provide 90 days notice. Transportation Minister Steve Ashton’s hope is that smaller transport companies will step up to fill the void.
“I don’t think people should assume that this is the final route map for bus service in the province,” Ashton said, referring to routes Greyhound will maintain.
We happen to agree with Ashton’s words on this — just not his optimism. While Greyhound plans to still maintain its freight and parcel service, and in fact has plans to implement “enhanced overnight service” to several locations throughout Manitoba, bus passenger service is a shrinking enterprise in this province.
As Neil Henry of Prairie Coach Charter Services in Brandon said: “There’s no ridership out there, everybody drives now — we’ve all got cars.”
There may be some money to be made busing folk to Winnipeg for medical treatments, but we fail to see how other, smaller operations would be able to make much of a profit when Greyhound couldn’t.
They, too, would need a steady supply of passengers to keep the engines running.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition April 10, 2012