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This article was published 28/2/2019 (733 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — As Manitoba parks its transportation regulator, bus passengers on routes that have replaced Greyhound say loose rules are putting safety at risk.

This week, images surfaced on Facebook of passengers huddled in blankets on a Thompson Bus coach that made the 10-hour Monday overnight trip to Winnipeg with an open door.

"I gave my blanket to an elderly gentleman," wrote Vivian Rabiscah, one of roughly 20 passengers on the bus.

"It was awful. You could see your breath."

Environment Canada records show temperatures at the time were around -30 C.

It’s among a handful of incidents with Thompson Bus that Free Press readers have experienced since Greyhound ceased all Manitoba service last October.

"With these people, I don’t know how they got their licence," Barren Lands First Nation Chief John Clarke said. "It’s kind of crazy."

Clarke is the chairman of the Keewatin Tribal Council (KTC), which arranges transportation for medical appointments in Winnipeg. After years of using Greyhound to transport patients, KTC is for the first time advising bus passengers to carry blankets on their trips.

Patients reported at least three breakdowns in February, Clarke said, causing them to miss medical appointments.

Another patient who departed Thompson on Sunday night sent the Free Press photos of a bus with smoke coming from the back. It took hours for a replacement van to arrive.

"The service is just ridiculous right now," Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence said.

"I don’t understand why these buses are even on the road when they don’t have proper heat."

Last month, the Free Press reported on a Thompson Bus trip that resulted in passengers travelling with no heat while outside temperatures hovered around -40 C. One called it a "nightmare in an icebox."

Manitoba’s intercity bus regulations have far looser requirements for heating than the other Prairie provinces. A broken heater is counted as a minor defect, and only has to be inspected every six months.

Thompson Bus did not respond to multiple voicemails sent to four officials over the course of a week.

An industry competitor is concerned freezing and broken-down coaches will give her firm a bad name.

"Things can happen; there’s ice. But people’s lives are at stake," said Lori Mann, head of Maple Bus Lines.

"It’s terrible; somebody’s going to be seriously hurt. And I get the bad spillage, and we’re trying to do the proper things."

One of Mann’s drivers, Dale Patkau, passed by a Thompson Bus coach on the side of Highway 6 last week in the early-morning hours. He said he offered to pick up the passengers and take them to Winnipeg, but the company declined.

A passenger on that bus confirmed they ended up going back to Thompson.

Patkau said he doesn’t want to criticize the other company, as all buses encounter issues in the winter. He was instead critical of the Brian Pallister government’s reluctance to help subsidize fledgling operators.

"I know the hill that these companies have to climb," said Patkau, a Greyhound driver for three decades.

"It’s just hard for companies to make a go of things."

Today, the Pallister government will shelve the Motor Transport Board (MTB), which used to issue authorization for intercity bus routes.

Mann said it used to require reams of paperwork and proof of local buy-in. While drivers still need specialized licences, they don’t need to prove to the province they can be trusted to reliably serve routes.

With no MTB, operators will no longer have to report service schedules; Manitoba Infrastructure is instead informally surveying companies.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler was not available for a Thursday interview, but wrote that his department will look into any complaints about service brought to its attention.

As for medical patients, Spence and Clarke have written to Indigenous Services Canada and various provincial ministers, asking to instead fly patients or at least beef up bus regulations.

Clarke said a better option would be to invest in improving medical services in the north.

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca