THE decision by Greyhound Canada to stop providing bus service in Northwestern Ontario beginning this fall has been the subject of much hand-wringing, but finding a solution should be as easy as navigating a four-lane highway.
Neither the provincial nor federal governments would take any serious flak for stepping in where Greyhound leaves off. Most taxpayers are accepting of the fact that Canadians who can’t afford to own a car or pickup truck — and there’s more than a few — have to get around somehow, whether or not they are seniors or young families struggling on a low income.
Premier Doug Ford’s mantra is that he’s “for the people.” Well, many of those folks can’t afford vehicle insurance let alone a good set of snow tires. Hitch-hiking on a busy major highway to meet a medical appointment is not a viable option.
Why is bus service so important? For one thing, much of Northwestern Ontario has been without regular passenger rail service for several decades. In parts of the country where one can still hop a train most days of the week, the service is heavily supported by government subsidies.
Greyhound, which is to continue operating in southern Ontario after the fall, has had to compete in a business environment in which government subsidies have also been directed at provincially-owned bus services, like Go Transit and Ontario Northland.
Some have argued that in the absence of government-subsidized buses, Greyhound would have done just fine in the crowded Toronto-area market from a profit perspective; so much so that it would have been able to continue brazening it out in the money-losing Northwest, despite the region’s steep decline in ridership over the last eight years.
But that’s water under the bridge. Ontario Northland has already expanded as far west as White River. Some regional politicians, Thunder Bay Mayor Keith Hobbs among them, see a further expansion right through to the Manitoba border as a logical move.
(Making that case at next month’s annual conference of Ontario municipalities, held this year in Ottawa, will be one of the last efforts for Hobbs, who is not seeking re-election.)
Private companies, notably Thunder Bay’s Kasper Transportation, have also expressed an interest in filling the gap in the North left by Greyhound; they also have the advantage of being more nimble, serving Northern routes with smaller buses , for instance, to be in line with the drop in passenger numbers.
But as Kasper has noted earlier, there isn’t enough business on those routes to financially justify two carriers. So Ontario Northland has to make up its mind.
Greyhound — which also passes through White River — pulls the plug on Northwestern Ontario and western Canada as of Oct. 31.
Decisions are needed — sooner than later.