Given that Greyhound had already suspended operations for about a year because of the pandemic, its announcement on Thursday that it was permanently ending all of its remaining bus service in Canada was almost symbolic.
The announcement, which eliminated about 400 jobs, followed the bus line’s withdrawal from Western Canada in the fall of 2018. The consequences of that earlier shutdown are still lingering and will now likely expand eastward.
Buses may not be Canadians’ favorite way to travel. But Barry Prentice, a professor at the University of Manitoba and a member of its transport institute, told me that the loss of bus service had a profound effect on many Canadian communities. It also underscored an inequity in how the Canada deals with transportation, he said.
“We really have an urban-rural division in the country,” Professor Prentice said from Winnipeg. “How is it OK for government to subsidize urban people crazily? Look at the money being spent in Toronto on the subway. And yet when it comes to rural people, well, they’re just chopped liver. There is no subsidy for transportation.”
In parts of the country where Greyhound operated, its service was usually the most affordable form of travel. And for many rural communities it was frequently the only alternative to owning a car or finding a ride in one.
A 2012 inquiry into dozens of women who went missing on the Highway of Tears in British Columbia found that a lack of reliable public transportation led many of them into danger through hitchhiking. (A subsidized service was restored several years later.)
Professor Prentice added that buses didn’t just provide low-cost travel for people, their quick and economical parcel delivery service offered same-day shipping between many places and gave rural communities not served by courier companies a quick and reliable method to receive time-sensitive shipments such as parts for farm equipment.
The medical system was also a major user of bus parcel express. When shipping packages to family members at Christmas, I often managed to always show up at Ottawa’s bus terminal just after someone had dropped off a cooler covered in stickers indicating that it contained human eyeballs destined for corneal transplants.
Until the 1980s, bus routes that ran between provinces were regulated by the federal government. Professor Prentice said that usually led to two-way deals. Large bus operators were given monopolies on the busiest and most profitable routes. In exchange, they were required to offer service along less lucrative and often minimally profitable lines.
A number of factors led to the end of Greyhound Canada. (Express runs to destinations in the United States by the separate American company of the same name will continue.) Low airfares, increased car ownership and improved Via Rail Canada service along busy routes in Ontario and Quebec are among them. The pandemic shutdown was the final blow.
Greyhound isn’t the only intercity bus company to quit the business in Canada. In 2017, Saskatchewan closed the government-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Corporation, saying that it could no longer afford its subsidies.
The provinces are now the only authority over bus lines, and some of them have completely deregulated their industries.
The result is an increasingly fragmented system in which Greyhound and others have been replaced by newcomers using smaller buses and nonunion drivers to find profits, although not always successfully. In some cases the newcomers have improved service, but many routes have gone unfilled.
Above all, it’s no longer possible to book a single ticket and enjoy, or perhaps endure, a bus ride across most of the country.
Earlier this year, several bus companies came together to create the Coast to Coast Bus Coalition. The group is calling on the federal government to return to regulating buses and to work with bus lines to create a national system that would integrate with Via Rail.
Professor Prentice said that the end of Greyhound in Canada had elevated the importance of at least hearing out such a plan.
“It’s remarkable how little people care, or seem to care, about buses,” he said. “Rural areas need transport, but that doesn’t seem to be ever something that translates into votes and therefore doesn’t get a lot of attention.”
The National Rodent
The federal government officially recognizes the beaver as a “symbol of the sovereignty of Canada.” But beavers don’t immediately conjure up warm feelings among all Canadians.
Property owners struggle to keep their land from being flooded by the industrious creatures, and their dams sometimes lead to dangerous highway washouts. This week, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Saskatchewan found a pile of fence posts that had been reported as stolen incorporated into a beaver dam.
I’m working on an article about Canadians’ sometimes tense relationship with their furry national symbol. If you have a story of struggle with the creatures, I’d like to learn about it. Or maybe you think beaver wars are all the fault of people. Either way, please email me directly and include your contact information and where you live. Please don’t labor over the note, I’ll be interviewing everyone who has a story that will fit with the article.
As Cirque du Soleil prepares to restart after its pandemic shutdown, Dan Bilefsky, my colleague in Montreal, caught up with some of its artists. For one aerialist, Dan found that “the long pause had undermined his confidence, since he couldn’t rehearse his airborne routines. When he recently started retraining, he said, he discovered that he had lost his ‘muscle memory’ and felt afraid to be in the air.” Also be sure to check out this video presentation of the artists getting back to the unique line of work.
Four months after President Biden canceled the Keystone XL pipeline, Canada is again at odds with the United States over another pipeline.
A prepandemic pregnancy means that Mandy Bujold, a top ranked boxer from Canada, may miss the Tokyo Olympics because of selection rule changes.
Tom Wilson, a Toronto native who plays for the Washington Capitals, is the talk of the N.H.L. for all the wrong reasons right now. Ben Shpigel reports that Wilson is the teammate that everyone wants and the opponent that everyone loves to hate. And Victor Mather has previewed the upcoming N.H.L. playoffs.
Jon Pareles writes that a new recording by the singer Allison Russell, a native of Montreal, delves into some dark places in her past and is “an album of strength and affirmation, not victimization.”
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported about Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.
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