As the Inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women in Smithers winds down, the debate over Greyhound’s proposed withdrawal from the north takes on, again, a tone of urgency along our highway. We see not just a business looking to stay above the red, but a vital service whose caretakers intend to throw us in harm’s way.
As important a service Greyhound provides, their proposal comes as no surprise. Because when it comes to transportation options, the Northwest is a victim of its own success. A decade ago we had a public health crisis that saw the introduction of Northern Health’s Northern Connector bus service, shuttling us in safety and comfort to important medical appointments. In a hard-fought lobby we saw BC Transit fill a void along a highway notorious for its dangers. Once isolated, we now enjoy competitive low-cost airlines zipping us to any point in the province in a fraction of the time as a bus and, when the stars align, at an equal or lower price.
As Jackie Lieuwen reports this week, Greyhound needs to make $7.09 per mile, per passenger to break even. In the Northwest they’re only making $2.42. So again, it comes as no surprise the company is asking to leave us to our own devices—we’ve done pretty well without them. No one needs to be a reporter, asking average people on the street how they feel about Greyhound, to know what the Greyhound experience is all about. We want Greyhound to stick around, but we’ll venture to say the company has dug the hole in which it now finds itself. Sure, 50 years ago the cost disparity between a bus and a plane was wide enough for us to choke back the discomfort of bus travel. But today Greyhound needs to sharpen their focus on rider experience. On a highway such as ours, how is a vulnerable female passenger any safer getting off (or kicked off) a bus at 3 a.m in a strange community? For any passenger—male, female, young, old—how can it be a viable option to arrive at your destination, for your important reasons, lacking all but a few lucky moments of sleep?
Greyhound says they have done everything to bring down costs, but from the ground level it doesn’t look like they’ve done anything to bring up passenger experience. If they’re sincere about staying in the region, consistent daytime service would have helped them recover lost revenue. It’s a mater of convenience, but also safety. If the company can’t adjust to the needs of Northwesterners, Northwesterns will continue to adjust their options.