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Province hopes market will come to the rescue of rural bus service

The province will introduce new rules July 1 in a bid to improve rural and northern bus service.

The move will help sustain services for Manitobans on key routes while offering greater flexibility for carriers, said Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton.

This includes making it easier for private-sector carriers to enter the market while giving community-based programs, such as handi-vans, more flexibility in the type of service they provide, Ashton said. 

“We have committed to making changes so that privately run bus service is more sustainable,” said Ashton, adding there haven’t been significant changes in transport regulation in 50 years.   

The current system neither adequately responds to need in rural and northern areas, nor has it proved sustainable. Manitoba’s most significant bus line service, Greyhound Canada, has received more than $3 million in provincial funding each of the past two years to keep its existing bus service going. 

“After consulting with numerous stakeholders, including Greyhound Canada, we know change is necessary,” Ashton said. 

Under the new rules, Greyhound Canada, which is expected to continue to be a major player in the province, will be allowed to withdraw service on any route in Manitoba after 90 days’ notice. It’s expected the carrier — which will lose its government subsidies July 1 — will put forward a new service plan. There’s no guarantee Greyhound will continue to service its current routes after that date, but Ashton said several companies have expressed interest in entering the Manitoba market. 

Manitoba’s transportation system badly needs improvements, especially for seniors, said Brad Saluk, mayor of Beausejour.

“We need to have more services outside the city at a reasonable cost to seniors,” said Saluk. “We have a lot of seniors who aren’t mobility challenged but can’t get out (because they don’t drive anymore).”

Beausejour began using its handi-van service as an inter-city mode of transport a couple of years ago, he said. Every one of the van’s 19 seats is now booked for its regular trips to Winnipeg and there are waiting lists, Saluk said. 

“They love it. It’s a great service,” he said.

The province will host consultations over the next three months with organizations representing northern, rural, First Nation and Métis communities to determine their interest in establishing inter-community transportation services on routes where private-sector service might not be available. 

More details on the regulatory review and consultations are available at www.gov.mb.ca/mit/intercitybus/index.html.

About the author

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Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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