North Thompson bus deficit needs a small business solution

If Greyhound’s proposed cutbacks go ahead, things will be much worse

Is it time to introduce more competition into B.C.’s inter-city bus industry? A recent proposal by Greyhound Canada that it cut back on 15 of its runs in the province is just the latest indication that the present system is not working for the residents of rural and remote communities.

A person from Clearwater, for example, who wants to travel to Kamloops now needs to get up in time to catch the 4 a.m. bus. That person had better not dilly-dally in the big city, however, because the bus back to Clearwater leaves at 12:15 p.m. (the alternative is to spend a night in Kamloops). Cost for a return, non-refundable ticket is $54.80.

For residents of Vavenby and other small communities, the service and the hours are even less convenient.

That’s the present situation. If Greyhound’s proposed cutbacks go ahead, things will be much worse.

The social bus service offered by Clearwater and Area Transit through Yellowhead Community Services (with help from BC Transit, the districts of Clearwater and Barriere, and Thompson-Nicola Regional District) is a step in the right direction.

A return bus travels to Kamloops every Thursday.

It leaves Vavenby at 8:29 and returns at 5:10, with stops along the way  at Clearwater, Little Fort, Barriere and so on. Tickets are $15 return from Vavenby and Clearwater, $10 from Little Fort south.

Total local subsidy for the program in 2011 was $15,000. Ridership up to November, 2011, was 330 (661 trips), so the subsidy works out to about $45 per person, making the total cost comparable to Greyhound’s rate.

A better, longer-term solution would be for an entrepreneur to start a bus service through the North Thompson Valley. Such a service would not be new. In fact, small business carriers served the Valley as far back as the 1930s.

Despite talk about Greyhound having a monopoly, there doesn’t seem to be any real legal obstacle to such a service.

An application to the BC Passenger Transportation Board would be needed. The board is required to consider three factors

(a) whether there is a public need for the service;

(b) whether the applicant is a fit and proper person and is capable of providing that service; and

(c) whether the application, if granted, would promote sound economic conditions in the passenger transportation business in British Columbia.

If the board approves an application, the Passenger Transportation Registrar would issue a license when certain safety requirements are met. New legislation enacted in 2004 was intended to make the passenger transportation industry more competitive.

Greyhound gives every indication that it would like to abandon its passenger service in favor of delivering packages. Perhaps it’s time for local governments to work with local courier businesses interested in expanding their package delivery services to include passengers.