Small Manitoba towns mourn the loss of Greyhound bus service in Western Canada

When Lillian Sylvestre heard Greyhound Canada was ending its western bus service, she made arrangements to visit her children in Red Deer on the route she’s taken for the last four decades.

“It means to me a lot because I like riding on the bus,” she said in the Winnipeg bus depot Monday night.

The last Greyhound buses will be pulling out of terminals on Oct. 31 as the company ends passenger and freight service in western Canada and Ontario west of Sudbury. It is laying off 415 workers, but says it is committed to honouring all labour agreements.

Sylvestre lives in Sprague, Man., minutes from the Minnesota and Ontario borders. It lost its bus service to Winnipeg several years ago.

“It was sad when all the small communities lost the bus route,” she said. “It is very hard because I used to hop on the bus in Sprague ten o’clock in the morning, go do my business — doctor, whatever in the city here, six o’clock — eight o’clock I’m home. Now I can’t do that. I got to rely on my kids, in-laws, friends.”

Greyhound cites a 41 per cent decline in ridership in Western Canada since 2010 as the reason for downsizing its operations. That’s partly because of increased competition from subsidized national and inter-regional passenger transportation services, including trains, the recent entry of ultra-low-cost airlines, regulatory constraints and increased car travel. 

Approximately 400 communities will lose service completely. The only western route remaining connects Vancouver with Seattle. 

Ridership for the remaining markets declined by an overall average of 34 per cent since 2010, the company says, adding those figures are improving. Routes in southern Ontario and Quebec will continue unchanged, including the following corridors:

  • Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-New York.
  • Toronto-Niagara Falls-Buffalo-New York.
  • Toronto-London-Windsor-Detroit.
  • Toronto-Barrie, Toronto-Guelph/Kitchener/Cambridge and all other southern Ontario services.

It sucks because it’s an easy way to get around and I think it benefits Canada. – Alex Toplensky

Alex Toplensky of Calgary, who is afraid of flying, says Greyhound bus rides helped her get around Canada to visit family and friends. (Walter Bernal/CBC News )

“It sucks because it’s an easy way to get around and I think it benefits Canada because there aren’t that many other bus routes out there that are well-known,” said Alex Toplensky, who was stretching her legs in Winnipeg, en route from Thunder Bay to Calgary.

“This goes everywhere, so I don’t know -— I hope they replace it with something that is still effective like this.

“Flying is not everybody’s forté: I’m afraid of heights. So I think the Greyhound offers a way that’s relaxing, comfortable, safe.”

Cost is a major factor for most riders.

“Let’s face it, a plane ticket for $450 or a Greyhound ticket for $280. If you’re in a place that doesn’t have an airport, a taxi out of the city to a place with an airport can be fairly expensive as well,” Toplensky said.

Service by the national motor coach operator is being replaced by a mixture of locally run and government-subsidized companies, along with some formal and informal ride-sharing services. However, the continuity the Greyhound routes provided will be lost.

John Ross of Cross Lake First Nation worries how people from the north will get to medical appointments in Winnipeg now that Greyhound is pulling out of Western Canada. (Walther Bernal/CBC News)

John Ross, who takes the 10-hour bus trip to Winnipeg from Cross Lake First Nation once a month, says other bus lines are stepping in to replace Greyhound in Manitoba’s north and he hopes they will be successful.

“Lots of patients coming out of Cross Lake rely on bus service,” Ross said Monday night, waiting for the last Greyhound bus to Thompson, Man.

“It’s a real essential service. Very cheap, too, unlike those airplane rides, which are costly.”

A national survey done in July suggested 56 per cent of Canadians agreed the service is vital and would support a federally funded or provincially funded service.

The Manitoba government, backed by Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, had asked Ottawa subsidize Greyhound’s operations in Western Canada for another two months to allow other transportation companies to start up.

Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau saysthat is not an option, but adds Ottawa will work with the province to fill the gaps.

Provincial regulations gave Greyhound a monopoly on the busiest routes in exchange for servicing some of the least populated ones.

With files by Brett Purdy.