Okanagan bus service facing the axe

Greyhound is asking to cut the number of weekly trips to many Okanagan communities in half

Passengers load up on Wednesday's 2:40 p.m. bus out of Penticton. The mid-afternoon run is one that Greyhound is proposing to eliminate to reduce its $14-million annual loss in B.C.

Passengers load up on Wednesday's 2:40 p.m. bus out of Penticton. The mid-afternoon run is one that Greyhound is proposing to eliminate to reduce its $14-million annual loss in B.C.

A silver lining on the proposed reduction in Greyhound Canada trip frequencies could be the new opportunities it might create for competition in public transportation, says a local politician.

The bus company has applied to the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board to eliminate one route and reduce minimum service levels on 15 of its 18 other routes in the province.

On the Kelowna-Penticton run, the minimum is proposed to drop from 56 weekly trips to 28, while the minimum on the Vancouver-Rock Creek route, which makes stops in Keremeos, Osoyoos and Penticton, could be halved from 28 to 14.

In its application, the company claimed it lost $14 million on its B.C. routes last year due to increased costs for fuel and maintenance, reduced ridership and an “inflexible” regulatory regime that prevents it from responding quickly to market forces.

The company did not respond to requests for comment.

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton called Greyhound’s proposal “disappointing.”

While he understands the company’s needs to rein in costs, he thinks it should also look at ways to increase revenue, like nicer terminals or better buses.

Ashton, who also chairs the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen, said if Greyhound does reduce service, it could leave the door open for more nimble carriers to fill demand on a regional basis.

“In my personal opinion, I think there is a lot of room for private and public transportation,” Ashton said, citing the potential promise of Osoyoos-Vernon and Princeton-Kelowna routes.

He expects both Penticton city council and the RDOS board will discuss Greyhound’s application, in particular the impact it might have on people in outlying areas who ride buses to medical appointments, when both local governments meet next week.

This week, Velma McGillivary was one of just a handful of people who caught Wednesday’s 2:40 p.m. bus out of Penticton.

The retired health-care worker said she has heard of Greyhound’s proposed cutbacks, but doesn’t think they’ll affect her as she makes the round trip from Coquitlam to Penticton just twice annually to visit relatives.

“It’s sure served me well,” McGillivary said. “I’ve taken it for years.”

The 2:40 p.m. northbound departure is one that Greyhound has proposed to eliminate. According to its application, the route left Penticton with an average of 7.95 passengers each day between July 2011 and June 2012. Per-passenger revenue equalled $2.18 per mile, less than half the company’s stated break-even cost of $5.69 per mile.

Public comments on the proposed changes will be accepted by the Passenger Transportation Board until Oct. 17. The board tries to rule on applications within 60 to 90 days of receipt, which means a decision should come before the end of the year.

Greyhound originally asked in August that its application be fast-tracked through the assessment process without a public comment period because of mounting financial losses. But the board ruled against that request because the proposed changes are “comprehensive and will affect many communities.”

That ruling also states that Greyhound told the board that if its application is not approved, all of its operations in B.C. “will be at risk of discontinuance.”

The full application is available online at www.greyhound.ca.