Some bus companies stepping up to fill Northern Manitoba gap left by Greyhound, others stepping back

One company that said it would be offering bus service between Thompson and Winnipeg following Greyhound’s devision to abandon Western Canadian bus routes has now abandoned those plans while waiting to see how things play out.

Kasper Wabinski of Thunder Bay, Ont.-based Kasper Transportation, which announced plans to run buses between Winnipeg and Thompson within a day of Greyhound saying in July that  they would cease Western Canadian operations, now says that the market is too crowded.

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“There’s always casualties in storms like this and I’d rather save my money until I can come in at a later date when everybody’s tapped out and burnt out and beat up and I can take my sweet time and do it right,” he told the Thompson Citizen Oct. 30, the same day that Greyhound ran its last buses from Thompson and Flin Flon to Winnipeg and between Thompson and Cross Lake. “I’d rather focus on increasing the frequency of my service on other routes, use that money there to build a stronger foundation there and then I can come back in a few months. I think it’s a serious mistake that the province gave out so many licences. They wanted some competition, maybe one or two licences was OK. I was the first one to get the licence and then they start handing them out like it was a free dinner voucher.”

Opaskwayak Cree Nation-based Kelsey Bus Lines, which announced Oct. 12 that it had received approval from the Manitoba Motor Transport Board to provide public transportation throughout the province, will not be running a bus from Thompson to Winnipeg at this time, said CEO Suzanne Barbeau-Bracegirdle.

“That one there we want to sit down and actually work on a schedule so that we’re not stepping on everybody’s toes,” she said, though the company is taking over the Flin Flon-Winnipeg route now that Greyhound is out of the picture. “A bus is going to be leaving out of Winnipeg Nov. 1 and then a bus will be leaving out of Flin Flon Nov. 1.”

Still, Thompson bus riders who need to get to Winnipeg are currently better off than they were a few months ago, with both Thompson Bus and Maple Bus Lines offering overnight service to Winnipeg at least five times a week.

“Last night we started with the Thompson to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Thompson,” said Maple Bus Lines general manager Maisie Hicks Oct. 30. “I would say that the bus was about half full, so not bad.”

Maple Bus Lines has eight buses and requires at least four at a time to service all its Northern Manitoba routes, which also include service between Thompson and Cross Lake as well as from Winnipeg to Thompson via Dauphin, Swan River and The Pas. It runs buses between Winnipeg and Thompson from Sunday to Thursday.

“We also do freight,” said Hicks. “If we combine both of those we’ll be there for the long haul. If everybody keeps supporting either by freight or by travelling with us then we’ll have many years to come.”

Thompson Bus was the second company to step forward and say it would take over when Greyhound stepped away. Jimmy Pelk said Oct. 30 that the company, which now has 12 employees and is looking for three more, is running buses to Winnipeg from Thompson every day except Saturday and in the opposite direction every day except Sunday. Pelk said ridership was up about 50 per cent Oct. 29, which was the last time that a Greyhound left Winnipeg for Thompson.

“We’ve got lots of ridership,” Pelk said. “People are happy. They appreciate our care and concern for their well-being to make sure they get to where they’re going.”

In addition to the Thompson-Winnipeg route, which started Oct. 15, Thompson Bus also offers service to Gillam and Cross Lake, as well as a courier service to Snow Lake, The Pas and Flin Flon five days a week, and package pickup and delivery within Thomson and Winnipeg as well. Thompson Bus has also partnered with a courier to be able to offer freight from Thompson to Brandon via Winnipeg.

“Northern Manitoba’s in better shape today then they were July 10 so for the people, for the communities that’s a great thing,” he said.

Pelk says Thompson Bus is profitable right now and that he hopes that trend will continue.

“Mid-November is going to be a great goalpost to know where we’re at and know where the industry’s at,” he said, figuring that anyone who doesn’t have sufficient ridership in 15 to 45 days will probably reconsider continuing the service. “It’s a serious expense to operate a bus company.”

Without other routes to fall back on however, Pelk said Thompson Bus is committed to making things work over the long term.

“We’re working on a lot of partnerships with people in the north to make sure that Northern Manitoba has a local transportation company to take care of everybody’s needs,” Pelk sad. “I don’t want to go to the Northern Inn Dec. 1 and sit down and look around the room and say we failed as a bus company. I’m not going to. I’m going to sit down at the restaurant at the Northern Inn and say, “‘Hey Bob, thanks so much. It was great seeing you at the depot last night.’ We’re here and that’s the biggest thing that I need to remind people.”

The federal government said Oct. 31 that it would work with provincial governments to assess coverage by new transportation providers and would consider helping provinces provide support to areas with service gaps on a cost-shared and transitional basis. Ottawa also said it would provide additional support for Indigenous-owned transportation companies through existing programs like the Aboriginal Entrepreneurship Program.

“I am encouraged by interest that has been voiced by private sector transportation companies in taking over the routes that will no longer be serviced by Greyhound Canada,” said Transport Minister Marc Garneau in a press release. "I am keen to keep working with provinces and territories on finding solutions. I look forward to a positive outcome that will meet the transportation mobility needs of Canadians.” 

"The elimination of Greyhound bus services in Western Canada and Northern Ontario will affect many Indigenous communities,” said Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott. “These routes are critical for community connectedness and the safety of Indigenous women and girls. That is why the federal government will be engaging with Indigenous communities to support those impacted by bus service cancelation, as well as supporting community-led solutions including new economic opportunities such as Indigenous-owned transportation businesses. Additionally, I want to assure clients of the Non-Insured Health Benefits program that medical transportation services will not be interrupted and that officials from ISC are working directly with communities to ensure that good options are available."

“We would hope that all levels of government work with our First Nation leadership and communities in order to support these economic development opportunities while providing our citizens with the basic right to transportation, particularly our northern relatives,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas in an Oct. 31 press release.

“I am delighted that private bus operators, many of which are CUTA members, are stepping in to provide local solutions in their regions,” said Canadian Urban Transit Association president Marco D’Angelo. “However, there is still work to be done at the federal and provincial levels to identify and implement alternatives for those communities that are not being covered. CUTA will monitor the situation to ensure that no vulnerable groups in rural areas in Western Canada and Northern Ontario are left behind by ongoing developments.”

© Copyright 2018 Thompson Citizen

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