Vera Peters: Stranded in Edmonton
GREYHOUND BUS HAS LEFT VERA PETERS STRANDED. She’s not alone. She’s just one of the two million Canadians who won’t be able to count on Greyhound bus to stay connected any more.
Vera lives in Edmonton. The Greyhound decision to abandon its bus service in Western Canada means she won’t be able to visit any of her three children.
“Sure there’s flights from Edmonton to Vancouver where one of my daughters lives, but for low-income people like me, there’s no way we can afford it. As for visiting the other kids in small communities, you can’t get a flight there. The bus was the only way in.”
For Vera, it also means the end to a low-cost and quick way of sending parcels.
“We could just pop it on the next bus and it would be there the same time the bus was. With Canada Post it’s a lot more expensive and it takes forever.”
By October 31 Greyhound will have cancelled all bus service in Canada west of Ontario. This move will throw 415 people out of work. It will also leave over 2 million riders scrambling to find other ways to connect with each other—something Greyhound has been doing since 1929, when it first began operations in BC.
A lot more than a bus service
For riders who use the bus to access healthcare, the news is heart stopping.
Jean Grassick of Dauphin, Manitoba takes the bus to Winnipeg for regular treatments to halt a progressive eye condition. She told CBC News that without the treatments, she’ll go blind.
UBC professor, Penny Gurstein, believes that the federal government should step in because these route closures will effectively limit access to essential services like medical care, putting people’s health and lives at risk.
AMC Grand Chief Arlen Dumas agrees and is calling on the provincial and federal governments to help First Nations and others living in remote communities create a subsidized, sustainable transportation network.
“The more that we take the opportunity to take over these types of things — to provide services for ourselves — the better off we all are,” he said.
Escape route for abused women
Even more ominous is the threat these closures pose for women fleeing violence.
Abusive partners often control the purse strings so their victims have no access to the means of making an escape. Women in these situations have relied on shelters paying the bus fare to get them to safety, whether that be to a shelter or to supportive family and friends in another location.
Joanne Baker, executive director of the BC Society of Transition houses, puts it bluntly. “It is vital that women in rural and remote communities have access to safe and affordable transportation. Without it, they may have little choice but to remain with their abuser.”
For indigenous women, the stakes are even higher. They are in danger not only from abusive partners but from predators who treat them as disposable, and who seldom face consequences for raping, brutalizing, or even murdering them.
Jody Leon, a member of the Splatsin First Nation in BC states their concerns. “There’s a lot of people in Indigenous communities right now that have a lot of fear around the cancellation of the Greyhound line.”
The Native Women’s Association of Canada has issued a news release in response to the cuts, asserting that a lack of safe transportation is “encouraging travellers to resort to less safe means of transportation such as hitchhiking or walking unsafe highways.”
An essential service for indigenous people
As Grand Chief Doug Kelly says, “If they’re hitchhiking, they’re vulnerable; they’re vulnerable to violence, they’re vulnerable to murder.”
In his role as chair of the First Nations Health Council in BC, he sees bus service between remote communities as an essential service without which vulnerable women and girls are put in an even more dangerous position.
Yet Greyhound Canada senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick said in an interview with The Canadian Press that “Simply put, the issue that we have seen is the routes in rural parts of Canada—specifically Western Canada—are just not sustainable anymore.”
Peter Hamel, Greyhound’s regional vice president for Western Canada, said that the company has been running deficits and have no profitable routes left in Western Canada.
“That’s the argument that we’ve been making [to the government]. This is the message that we’ve been trying to communicate this year and for five years — that no private sector company can be sustainable in these markets, in these regions, without some sort of assistance.”
So what’s the solution?
Some government officials have said they expect the private sector will jump in and fill the gap. It seems an odd assertion to make when one of the largest and most established private sector players is abandoning bus service for the entire region.
Nicole Sarauer of the Saskatchewan NDP doesn’t buy it. She points out there has been no private sector backup ever since the shutdown of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company. “We’ve seen little of that so far. And now with the shutdown of Greyhound, it’s even more concerning.”
Sarauer also believes losing the bus is a health and safety issue: it affects those who need to travel to get medical care in the larger cities, and impacts women fleeing domestic violence and dangerous situations.
Others have suggested that ride sharing would provide an alternative to bus service.
Leon isn’t so sure that this is a good solution for indigenous women and girls. “We know, based on past history, that some of our people have gone missing utilizing things like ride share.”
Publicly-owned bus service
Stop the Cuts member Chelsea Flook thinks she has the answer. She believes the best alternative includes accessing funding from the federal government for inter-city transportation, and starting up a scaled-down version of the formerly publicly-funded Saskatchewan Transportation Company.
“We would like them to see the consequences of their actions—that their whole idea that the market is going to step in, that’s not true, so they now need to get serious about coming up with alternatives,” she said.
Three BC Council of Canadian members, Joanne Banks, Eric Doherty and Anita Strong make a case for creating a publicly-owned and operated highway bus network that would be superior to the service Greyhound is abandoning.
Not only would it serve the safety needs of indigenous women and girls, as well as those of other women living in rural communities, it would also lead to fewer traffic accidents. Most of the communities served experience severe weather conditions, especially in winter. Keeping more drivers off the road during storms and icy driving conditions would keep everyone safer.
They also argue that it would cut down on green-house gas pollution and help meet Canada’s Paris climate conditions.
“Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has shown a willingness to spend billions to nationalize and expand an oil pipeline. Low-carbon transportation for people should be his funding priority instead. Regardless of what name is on the buses, the federal government must step up with funding.”
Vera Peters agrees with all their conclusions. And she adds another one. A publicly-funded bus service would create greater equality between all Canadians.
“These cuts to bus service make me feel like a second-class citizen. I’ll be cut off from my family. But it’s even worse for others who won’t have access to emergency services without buses. I think the government should supply the service. That’s my opinion.”
- 30 -