A Squamish councillor this week urged her fellow Sea to Sky Corridor leaders to voice their displeasure over Greyhound's proposed intercity bus service cuts in the corridor.
A Whistler lawmaker, though, said at a meeting in Squamish on Tuesday (Oct. 9) that he doesn't think the company's threat that it might discontinue B.C. service altogether is an idle one and urged corridor communities to be careful in what they demand.
In an application submitted to B.C.'s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) on Sept. 28, Greyhound is seeking permission to slash almost half of its bus schedule in the Sea to Sky Corridor as part of a plan to stem the flow of red ink from its operations in British Columbia.
Greyhound officials say the company lost $14.1 million on its B.C. operations last year and needs to reduce service or face possible cessation of its operations in the province. The company is seeking permission to reduce service on 15 routes within B.C. and abandon one — a daily bus from Victoria to the ski resort on Mount Washington. Service on only three of its B.C. routes would be unchanged.
If the application is approved, the minimum number of daily Greyhound buses traveling between Vancouver and Squamish would fall from seven to four, between Vancouver and Whistler from eight to four and from Vancouver to Pemberton from four to three.
Squamish Coun. Patricia Heintzman, speaking at a Squamish Transit Standing Committee meeting on Tuesday, urged her fellow leaders to tell the PTB that they oppose the proposed service cuts.
“We need to cohesively send a clear message that this is unacceptable,” she said.
Whistler Coun. Jack Crompton, who attended the meeting to discuss intercity transit options in the corridor, said some service is better than none and that because it's a private company, Greyhound could well follow through and halt service altogether.
In their application, Greyhound officials stressed the urgency of their request as a way to stem the flow of red ink in the company's B.C. operation.
“If we are forced to cease operations in British Columbia, the existing public need for intercity bus transportation will either go unmet or it will have to be filled by government-subsidized operators,” officials stated in a recent submission to the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB), which oversees passenger transportation services in the province.
Stuart Kendrick, Greyhound Canada senior vice president, on Tuesday stressed that the number of daily runs being sought is a minimum. The number of runs from Vancouver to Whistler during the busy ski season, for example, may well remain unchanged at eight per day, but might fall to four or five per day during non-peak season.
“This gives us flexibility to meet the peaks and valleys of the market and change when the off-season demand drops,” Kendrick said.
Halting B.C. operations altogether “is not something we want to do,” Kendrick said. “That [possibility] popped up when we were having discussions about how important it is to get some flexibility in the B.C. market. It's a possibility but something we consider a last resort… we want to remain viable and spend many more decades in B.C.”
The move could well add fuel to the fire for those who have been seeking to establish regular intercity transit service linking Mount Currie, Pemberton, Whistler, Squamish and Vancouver.
A year ago, the District of Squamish decided to discontinue funding for a regular Squamish-Whistler bus, leaving Whistler-Pemberton-Mount Currie with the corridor's only regular, publicly operated transit service.
In their application to the PTB on Sept. 28, Greyhound officials said reduced ridership on the 15 routes has made it necessary to slash service as a way to save money in the hopes that the company will be able to return to profitability in B.C.
“[Greyhound] plans to eliminate approximately 2.2 million operating miles in B.C. and generate yearly operating savings of approximately $6.75 million,” the submission states, adding that some 6.7 million operating miles would be retained.
“This application is submitted in light of ongoing unsustainable passenger operating losses that are being incurred by [Greyhound] in B.C. The minimum frequency adjustments and route abandonment… will, if approved, make it possible for [Greyhound] to continue its intercity bus passenger operations in B.C.”
On Aug. 31, the PTB rejected a similar application by Greyhound for similar schedule-reduction measures under the “Urgent Public Need” provisions of the Passenger Transportation Act. That's the portion of the act that allows operators to apply for schedule changes without the need for the board to seek public comment before making a decision.
The PTB ruled that Greyhound must apply for its reductions through the regular public process. In the ruling, PTB officials said their rejection under the “urgent public need” provision was based in part on the fact that Greyhound officials had admitted that similar losses had been incurred in previous years and were no longer sustainable.
“The Board finds this a clear indication that the applicant's economic challenges are not a new phenomenon. To some degree, the urgency has come about by the applicant's delay in filing an application,” the board wrote.
Comments on Greyhound's application, No. 315-12, must submit them in writing by Oct. 17 to the Passenger Transportation Board, P.O. Bo 9850 Stn Prov Govt, Victoria, BC V8W 9T5, by email to email@example.com or by fax to (250) 953-3788.
— With files from Rebecca Aldous, The Chief