SASKATOON, Saskatchewan (CTV Network) — Indigenous people, low-income Canadians and those living in rural Ontario and Quebec are disproportionately hit by Greyhound Canada shutting down its last routes in the country, advocates say.
Earlier this month, the bus service announced it was permanently shutting down all operations in Canada, and the move comes after a year of suspended service due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Although competitor Megabus announced an extra stop in Ottawa — providing service to Scarborough, Ont. and Kingston, Ont. — they aren’t adding any service east of the city.
“We can’t forget our rural and remote populations,” said Emilly Renaud, national co-ordinator for Canada Without Poverty, an Ottawa-based non-profit anti-poverty organization.
“Typically, one Greyhound is the only thing that they can use to get from a small town to other cities for health care, for employment, to visit a family, to pursue education, etc.,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. “I feel for them. I think if I were living in a rural community and all of a sudden my own transportation got shut down… I would just be stuck and helpless.”
But Greyhound’s pullout of Canada two weeks ago is hardly a surprise. In 2018, it suspended all operations in Western Canada, citing problems such as declining ridership and subsidized competition.
Before it was shuttered in British Columbia, Greyhound’s buses were one of the few remaining lifelines for those fleeing violence, including Indigenous women and girls, Renaud said. She and others said this avenue is also now cut off to Indigenous women and girls who were still using it in Ontario and Quebec.
Brenda Wilson, Indigenous advocate and former Highway of Tears Initiative co-ordinator in B.C., noted how Indigenous people lamented for years that stops were in unsafe areas, with buses running too infrequently during the daytime. She hopes groups now hoping to replace Greyhound really listen to marginalized commuters.
“In our own province, our own community, we have no say in how these buses run,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. Since Greyhound’s pullout of B.C., a series of charter buses have been attempting to fill in the gap there.
Wilson urged companies to do more to “ensure their patrons are delivered to safe space and not just dumped on the side of the road where it’s convenient for the bus to stop.”
PATCHWORK OF PRIVATE ROUTES NOT ENOUGH: RENAUD
Greyhound pulling out of Canada threw a wrench in travel plans for students such as Ashley Wunsch, whose parents live in a small town of Mattawa, Ont. — midway between Sudbury and Ottawa.
“It just kind of makes you feel more isolated, especially in a pandemic,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview. Throughout her university days, whenever she wanted to visit her parents, she relied on the Greyhound bus.
“For me this bus is the only option. There’s no transit. There’s no plane I can get home other than getting a ride,” she said, noting how it was cheaper than the train for a lot of people. She said Greyhound Canada’s routes were often the way of choice for many students who didn’t have a steady income.
Now, the fifth-year University of Ottawa student and others in her rural area will rely on the one remaining private bus service, which leaves at night. So she’ll end up arriving at 4 a.m., which she said is less than ideal, especially for female commuters travelling alone.
New options could be on the horizon. This Tuesday, Ontario announced it was teaming up with Ontario Northland and Metrolinx to create a 13-stop route between Timmins or Cochrane and Toronto.
Renaud said in the short term, the government should consider subsidizing remaining bus companies to further expand their routes in Greyhound’s wake.
And in the long term, she urged Canada to look beyond simply a national patchwork of for-profit, private transportation options.
“I think a better conversation is: should we have more public funding for transit systems that are more robust?” she said, imploring public transportation officials to look to Europe. She urged officials to learn from them and focus on “high-speed rail and providing subsidies for low-income and impoverished people, so that they can afford it.”
“People forget that there are thousands of thousands of Canadians living in these [rural] communities and the need is there,” she said, noting how they already face high transportation costs and that for many commuters or students, they’re travelling to the city for work because urban hubs have become unaffordable.
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