WINNIPEG - Bus companies in Canada are trying to woo back passengers after a dip in ridership following last year's gruesome beheading aboard a Greyhound bus in Manitoba.
Passenger numbers provided to The Canadian Press by several companies show thousands of riders shunned buses following the death of Tim McLean last July.
Smaller companies in northern Ontario and Saskatchewan indicated they lost a total of almost 13,000 riders and are still working to restore passenger confidence.
A spokeswoman for Greyhound - Canada's largest bus network - confirmed the company saw a "brief drop in ridership directly after the tragic incident." But Abby Wambaugh declined "for competitive reasons" to say how many passengers were lost and whether the numbers have rebounded.
She did say that about seven million people overall travelled with Greyhound last year - virtually the same number that took the bus in 2007.
"We only release yearly numbers since we find those are the most accurate due to the many factors throughout the year that affect ridership numbers," said Wambaugh, who added reaction has been positive to Greyhound's new security measures introduced in December.
Greyhound passengers in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary are now swept with hand-held metal detectors before they board the bus. At most bus stops in small towns or by the side of a rural road, passengers aren't screened.
McLean, a 22-year-old carnival worker, was resting peacefully and listening to music on a bus ride across the Prairies last July when he was stabbed repeatedly and eventually decapitated as horrified passengers looked on.
Vince Li has been charged with his murder and is to go on trial in Winnipeg next week.
The attack made headlines around the world and Greyhound wasn't the only company to suffer the aftermath. Tracy Fahlman, spokeswoman for Saskatchewan Transportation Co., said ridership had been increasing until the July killing.
"Immediately following, we saw such a significant decline in ridership, (and) we believe that the Greyhound tragedy was the most significant contributing factor," Fahlman said.
Ridership dropped by seven per cent in August compared to the same month in 2007. The bus company, which provides service across the province, finished the year with 2,800 fewer riders than the year before, she said.
The company is now beefing up security measures, including cameras, global positioning units and a panic button that immediately dispatches police to a bus's location. Drivers are also getting more training in self-defence and conflict resolution.
"We're hoping that the security measures we are taking will regain the confidence of our passengers," she said. "We're hoping to see the rebound in our passenger numbers over the next little while."
In northern Ontario, 11,000 fewer people took the bus between July and December of last year. Tricia Marshall of bus line Ontario Northland said ridership dropped 13 per cent, but it's not clear how much of that is due to McLean's murder.
The northern bus carrier started facing increased competition from provincial commuter service GO Transit at the same time, she said.
"We're unaware if any of the decreases in last year's ridership can be directly attributed to the unfortunate incident that happened last summer," Marshall said.