Greyhound Canada is losing millions on its B.C. operations because of rigid provincial rules that require minimum bus trips on inter-city routes regardless of passenger demand.
Minimum daily service levels are set by the provincially appointed Passenger Transportation Board. For Vancouver to Kamloops, and on the Trans Canada Highway at Golden, for example, Greyhound is required to run four buses each way, seven days a week.
“You have a minimum frequency that you have to run on every corridor, really regardless of whether you’re carrying 20 people or five people on each schedule,” said Stuart Kendrick, senior vice president of Greyhound Canada.
As an example, trips between the Alberta border and Vancouver must make two stops minimum daily in Vernon and 28 weekly. Trips between Kamloops and Kelowna must make three daily stops in Vernon, 42 weekly.
Kendrick said the company lost $14 million on its B.C. operations in 2011, and previous years have seen similar losses. He has written to Transportation Minister Mary Polak asking the B.C. government to follow the lead of other provinces and deregulate bus service so it can be kept alive.
Polak said she is aware that B.C. service is at risk, and ministry staff are working on options.
“It’s obvious from what they’re saying that they need to make adjustments, or they’re going to have to pull out of the whole thing,” Polak said.
The company has applied to the board to reduce service on B.C. routes, but not drop any routes entirely. Kendrick said the rules don’t allow adjustments to reflect lighter traffic on certain days of the week, or seasonal adjustments.
Manitoba changed its regulations in July to allow flexible schedules. Alberta deregulated inter-city bus routes in 2011, allowing bus companies to enter or exit a route with 30 days’ notice. Some routes have been abandoned as a result, as urbanization and changing travel habits have led to declines in rural ridership.
In New Brunswick, rigid rules prompted the only inter-city bus line to shut down entirely.
Kendrick said the B.C. rules are not only inflexible, but the application process takes too long. The company is required to advertise any route change in affected communities, and may need to hold public meetings as well.
Polak said the government may be able to change regulations rather than amend legislation, which would have to wait until the B.C. legislature resumes in January.