September 24, 2018

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Manitoba eyeing ways to prolong bus service

Pallister encourages other provinces to get Greyhound to delay end of Prairie operations

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck</p><p>The federal NDP is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a funding plan that would preserve Greyhound Canada's bus routes in northern communities. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks Trudeau in a letter to take "immediate action" and stop the cancellation of crucial bus routes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwestern Ontario and rural British Columbia. </p>

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

The federal NDP is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to develop a funding plan that would preserve Greyhound Canada's bus routes in northern communities. NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh asks Trudeau in a letter to take "immediate action" and stop the cancellation of crucial bus routes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Northwestern Ontario and rural British Columbia.

OTTAWA — Manitoba is pushing four other provinces to join forces and ask Greyhound Canada for two more months of Prairie bus service, after being “blindsided” by a Monday announcement it would end those routes on Halloween.

“Obviously, we hope that the private sector responds,” Premier Brian Pallister told the Free Press.

He said an extra two months would give potential alternative providers an opportunity to evaluate routes and develop a business plan. “Time is a factor here, obviously. You’ve got to commit assets,” he said on Thursday.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler made that case in a Thursday conference call with his four counterparts from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

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OTTAWA — Manitoba is pushing four other provinces to join forces and ask Greyhound Canada for two more months of Prairie bus service, after being "blindsided" by a Monday announcement it would end those routes on Halloween.

"Obviously, we hope that the private sector responds," Premier Brian Pallister told the Free Press.

He said an extra two months would give potential alternative providers an opportunity to evaluate routes and develop a business plan. "Time is a factor here, obviously. You’ve got to commit assets," he said on Thursday.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler made that case in a Thursday conference call with his four counterparts from British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario.

"It is a reasonable request," Schuler said moments after the call. "It is a serious issue, and Manitoba’s going to be particularly hit."

Schuler said he wants all five ministers responsible for transport to write a joint letter to Ottawa, asking the federal government to push Greyhound for 60 more days of bus service, beyond the scheduled Oct. 31 end to all service between B.C. and northwestern Ontario.

He said if Greyhound balks at the request, Ottawa could offer a subsidy. Schuler wouldn’t say whether other provincial ministers were on board with the idea, or if others had proposed it.

The extra time would allow private-sector firms more time to fill service along routes set to close, Schuler argued, rather than scrambling to assemble business plans and soliciting investors during a season where many are on vacation.

"A lot of people are on holidays and they’re not in their office, and they’re not looking at this kind of stuff," Schuler said, adding it’s "unreasonable" to expect the private sector step in within 114 days.

"You have to get over the shock. And for individuals to start putting a business plan together, to deal with this, does take time."

Schuler said his concern is communities will go weeks or even months without any public transportation service, which could lead to people moving or finding alternative living arrangements. That gap could deplete Greyhound’s customer base, which would be needed to sustain private-sector ventures.

"We believe, on the other side, it opens up a lot of opportunity," Schuler said, adding nimble transportation companies used to be reluctant to start "going up against an American, multinational corporation."

He said "there is a good business opportunity" for both freight and passenger travel "with some creative thinking." The government has ruled out subsidies and grants, saying those have been tried in recent years without convincing Greyhound to retain its routes.

Pallister said he said he was encouraged to see "some initial response already" from Ontario-based carrier Kasper Transportation, which has expressed its intention to expand service in Manitoba to help fill the vacuum left by Greyhound’s departure.

Schuler reiterated the provinces had no advance warning from Greyhound ahead of its Monday announcement. "We were blindsided by this," he said, adding corporations usually give governments a week to plan responses to major decisions, trusting they won’t leak news about them.

The federal government is already assessing transportation options for First Nations people. Ottawa funds on-reserve health care, including Greyhound trips for patients needing procedures in Winnipeg.

Meanwhile, Schuler said he was "really pleased" federal Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott is reaching out to the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs over its concern a lack of bus service will compromise medical transportation and safe options for women.

Pallister also said he occasionally rode the bus between Brandon and Portage la Prairie during his university days, although he most often hitchhiked because he couldn’t afford bus fare.

These days, he said, he would not want to see Manitobans have to hitchhike, not because of a lack of bus service, but because of potential danger.

The premier expects inter-city bus transportation to come up at next week’s premiers meeting in New Brunswick. He noted Alberta Premier Rachel Notley has already urged her colleagues to discuss the issue.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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History

Updated on Thursday, July 12, 2018 at 6:59 PM CDT: Adds photo

July 13, 2018 at 6:21 AM: Final

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