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'Feel cut off:' Loss of Greyhound bus service leaves few options in rural areas

Last Updated Jul 10, 2018 at 3:00 pm PDT

The Greyhound logo is seen on one of the company's buses, in Vancouver, on Monday July 9, 2018. Greyhound Canada says it is ending its passenger bus and freight services in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, and cancelling all but one route in B.C. -- a U.S.-run service between Vancouver and Seattle. As a result, when the changes take effect at the end of October, Ontario and Quebec will be the only regions where the familiar running-dog logo continues to grace Canadian highways. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Mohammed Idriss says the small city of Brooks in southern Alberta will get more isolated when Greyhound bus service ends across Western Canada in the fall.

Greyhound has announced it will end all its routes in the West, save for one between Vancouver and Seattle, at the end of October.

Brooks, with a population of about 14,450 is on the Trans-Canada Highway, but it’s 190 kilometres to Calgary toward the west and 110 kilometres to Medicine Hat in the east.

“We already feel cut off to a degree because of the availability of some services in the big city only,” said Idriss, manager of Brooks and County Immigration Services.

A large population of newcomers to Canada work in Brooks, about 90 per cent of them at a beef-processing facility owned by JBS Canada.

Idriss estimates about 1,000 people moved to the community to work and many find getting out of town difficult.

“There are people who have vehicles, but are not that comfortable going into a big city with their own vehicle, and they would just prefer taking public transportation,” he said.

“I can’t give a good estimate of how big the impact will be, but we’re going to hear more once people start realizing there is no service any more.”

Brooks Mayor Barry Morishita is disappointed with Greyhound’s decision.

“I was on a Greyhound last night coming back from Calgary. It’s funny I was on one the day the news came out.

“It’s going to have an impact on a number of people.”

The loss of Greyhound is also a concern to Canada’s largest reserve. The sprawling Blood Indian Reserve in southwestern Alberta is home to 12,500 residents.

Band spokesman Rick Tailfeathers said service has been going downhill since Greyhound stopped service to Fort Macleod, just 30 kilometres away.

He said only about half of the band’s members own cars.

“The good thing about (Greyhound) was people could afford a bus ticket,” he said. “Now people are going to have to find another way to travel.”

In the north, bus service is relied on by many Indigenous people who travel to bigger cities for medical care.

“It is already well documented that our citizens have to ride the bus for hours, some longer than 14 hours, in order to see a doctor. How will they get access to adequate health care now?” said Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.

There were previous Greyhound cuts, such as in 2012, when the bus company stopped operating on a number of roads including Highway 2 in Manitoba.

Rick Chrest, the mayor of Brandon, Man., said it’s a blow for people who don’t own vehicles because there is no rail service in many areas and access to passenger airlines is limited.

Chrest is hopeful smaller private operators will step in, but that didn’t happen after the 2012 cuts.

“This will take away yet another option for public transportation that certainly many people rely on,” Chrest said.

“We might be hopeful that some other aspect of the private sector may start stepping up and filling the void.”

Chrest pointed to a private firm that offers a shuttle bus that carries Brandon residents two hours east to the airport in Winnipeg. Brandon has an airport, but the only major scheduled service is a daily WestJet run to Calgary.

Bus charter companies, which transport sports teams, might also find a niche in regular scheduled service, he suggested.

Ontario-based Kasper Transportation, which provides service to Northwest Ontario and Manitoba, announced expansion plans Tuesday.

In a Facebook post, it said it will be offering service from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, Ont., Thompson, Man., Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, Sask., starting Oct. 31 — the day Greyhound shuts down its western operation.

Greyhound currently services small communities across the sparsely populated Prairies. There are 46 stops alone during the 19-hour run from Winnipeg to Calgary — places such as MacGregor, Man., Sintaluta, Sask. and Bassano, Alta.

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Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version misspelled the community of Sintaluta