Greyhound’s plans to downsize provincially could have a major impact on Nelson riders and businesses.
The bus company asked the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board in August for permission to eliminate six routes in Northern B.C. and three others on the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island.
Greyhound also requested to cut the service of 10 more routes, as well as stop servicing some route points. Nelson, which is one of the stops on what Greyhound calls Route D: Kelowna – Alberta Border and Highway 3, would be among the cities affected.
Right now the Nelson depot has stops twice a day, seven days a week, with one bus headed east and the other west. If the changes are approved, service to Nelson could be cut to just two days a week. It’s also not yet clear how the plan affects other route stops in the Regional District of Central Kootenay.
Although part of the application requires Greyhound to alert mayors and city councils of affected cities, the news came as a surprise to Nelson city council when contacted by the Star.
Councillor Valerie Warmington, who is the city’s transportation representative, said the service reduction will only make travel in and out of Nelson more difficult.
“As a private company, Greyhound has little motivation to consider the adverse impacts of its decisions on communities like Nelson, which will become further isolated and private-vehicle dependent without the service they currently provide,” said Warmington in an email from Vancouver while attending the Union of B.C. Municipalities conference.
She added a long-term vision for inter-regional public transport is overdue and needs to be addressed by the provincial and federal governments.
“Although provincial government assurances that inter-regional transportation is of concern, particularly so in light of Greyhound’s plans, as yet there has been no indication of what might be done in response.”
When reached for comment, a Greyhound spokesperson writing on behalf of Peter Hamel, the regional vice-president of the company’s Western Canada operations, told the Star on Friday in an email that the request for Nelson is only for the option of reducing service to a minimum two days a week.
“We are requesting this option for future consideration to enable us to be nimble, with the flexibility to respond rapidly to changing market situations matched to customer demand. This can mean an increase or decrease in the number of frequencies, matched to customer demand for service.”
Hamel also said partnership agreements would mean freight service on all routes would continue without disruption.
Jenny Robinson, the executive director of Nelson CARES, was surprised to learn of the possible service cuts. She said Greyhound’s plans would negatively impact low-income residents, as well as seniors and people in need of medical services in Kelowna.
“It affects so many people because transportation is so limited in this region,” said Robinson. “The public system, it’s there but it’s not robust. To get to Kelowna is so critical for us, for health, for employment, for all kinds of education reasons. There’s all kinds of people who use that system, so it’s going to be challenging for people.”
Greyhound’s proposed cuts could also have an economic impact in Nelson.
Chamber of Commerce executive director Tom Thomson expressed concern on behalf of local businesses with few other delivery options, especially in winter when the Castlegar airport schedule become erratic and highway conditions are unsafe.
“That being said, it’s really difficult for anybody to come in and tell a private sector company that’s losing money that you need to stay here because we really need you,” said Thomson.
“It’s not really a government-run facility, it’s not something tax subsidies are normally applied to. Maybe there’s another business opportunity for someone else to say we can make money as a private sector company operating a more daily service. Right now [Greyhound] is doing it all over the province and it just seems like it’s not profitable for them under their current model.”
According to an application document found on the Passenger Transportation Board website, three factors are considered when weighing its decisions: public need, the financial health of the applicant, and an applicant’s fitness to provide service.
The board has set an Oct. 13 deadline to receive public comment, which it prefers to be in the form of detailed correspondence from individuals rather than general letters or petitions.
Robinson said Nelson CARES would be writing to the board prior to that deadline, with the hope it helps prevent Greyhound’s cuts.
“It’s not good news for this community,” she said.