“It’s going to affect everybody.”
– DOUG DOBROWOLSKI, AMM
Ahigh-stakes showdown between Greyhound Canada and the Manitoba government continues amid threats by the carrier to shut down its bus service in the province completely.
Provincial officials were scheduled to meet with Greyhound this week to discuss the company’s demands for a $15-million bailout to help stem its financial losses on rural routes throughout the nation.
If it doesn’t get the money, Greyhound says it will cease operations in Manitoba Oct. 2.
The move would effectively balkanize bus service in Canada. Buses coming from both the East and the West would have to stop at the Manitoba border.
Greyhound has also given notice it will cease bus service in northwestern Ontario Dec. 2.
“The national structure would be broken in the middle of the country,” acknowledged Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president of Greyhound Canada.
The prospect of losing bus service in rural Manitoba has alarmed its citizens and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
Greyhound serves about 150 communities in the province. Many residents in rural and remote areas depend on the bus to travel to Winnipeg and Brandon for medical treatment and other purposes, said Doug Dobrowolski, AMM president.
“It’s going to be very devastating and it’s going to affect all ages. It’s going to affect everybody,” he said.
Dobrowolski last week asked the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to lobby Ottawa to intervene in the matter, calling it a national issue.
Kendrick said Greyhound is looking for financial assistance from Ottawa and all the provinces, not just Manitoba.
But the carrier is targeting Manitoba for terminating service because it has more unprofitable routes than any other province, he said.
Intercity bus service is federally regulated in Canada but Ottawa delegates regulatory authority to the provinces. The regulator in Manitoba is the Motor Transport Board, which hears applications for fee increases and route changes. The board licenses Greyhound with the understanding that it use money from profitable routes to offset losses on unprofitable ones.
Greyhound has periodically asked for and received permission to cancel routes it deems unprofitable. But its losses now are such that it’s all or nothing in Manitoba, said Kendrick.
He would not say exactly how much money the company is losing in Manitoba before meeting with the province Sept. 16. Greyhound officials were also scheduled to meet with other western provinces this week to press their $15-million request.
Kendrick said Greyhound was forced to go to the provinces after federal Transport Minister John Baird rejected the company’s appeal.
The $15 million would be a temporary band-aid to keep routes operating for 12 to 15 months until a long-term solution to Greyhound’s declining ridership and revenues are solved, he said.
Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Ron Lemieux said he could not agree to help subsidize Greyhound without knowing exactly how much the carrier is losing and where.
“I’m responsible for the public purse. I’m responsible for taxpayers’ dollars. I’m not going to sign a blank cheque to an international corporation without having some proof or evidence that there’s something wrong with what’s happening in bus transportation,” Lemieux said.
“I’ve asked them repeatedly and they’re not giving us that. They’re just saying, we don’t care how you cut it up, we just want $15 million from the federal, provincial and territorial governments.”
Kendrick denied Greyhound is using bullying and blackmail tactics, as Baird and others have alleged.
“We’re not here to bully anyone. In fact, just the opposite. We’re trying to maintain a national network.”
Kendrick said deregulation is one solution to an industry suffering from falling ridership and lower revenues.
But Lemieux said Greyhound has a monopoly to operate in Manitoba and must accept the conditions that go along with that. [email protected]