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Take it or leave it: Greyhound wants out of dysfunctional relationship

"Don't it always seem to go, That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone." Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell People are funny.

"Don't it always seem to go,

That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone."

Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

People are funny. You rarely hear about how much something means to someone until the moment that they sense they're about to lose it - or after they realize it's already gone.

The world has seen it on a large scale since the death of Michael Jackson, whose dying, transformed him from sideshow freak with suspect sexual appetites back to what he was more than 25 years before: the King of Pop, a master musician and entertainer.

On a personal level, anyone who's ever been involved in a break-up where one party desperately wants to keep the relationship going has either wondered where these expressions of love were back when it mattered or why they didn't wake up earlier and stop taking their love for granted before it was too late.

Locally we saw the way people really feel (or want others to think they do) expressed when CBC decided to shut down North Country, so loudly that management ultimately backed down and kept it alive.

Now it's Greyhound's turn.

Last Thursday, close to 20 people showed up at the Juniper Centre for a Motor Transport Board hearing on Greyhound's application to discontinue service on the Flin Flon-Thompson route and vice-versa, as well as the van service the company operatesfrom Snow Lake to Ponton, which allows residents of the town to hook up with Greyhound's regularly scheduled Northern Manitoba buses that pass by.

That's probably more than the number of riders on the route on any given day.

Of all the people who spoke, only three mentioned riding the bus. To most, parcel and freight services - which are deregulated, unlike passenger carriage - were more significant than the actual issue at hand - a non-profitable passenger route.

Greyhound representative Peter Hamel's comment?

"If you don't use it, there's potential to lose it."

It's been said that priorities are in the pocketbook. In other words, put your money where your mouth is. If these routes made money - hell, if they broke even - Greyhound wouldn't be seeking to shut them down. If they were as essential as the members of the Motor Transport Board heard they were from presenters, they'd be full. As transport board member Al Rivers pointed out to the assembled objectors, anyone can apply to run a regular or chartered service from Flin Flon to Thompson. If there was money in it, someone would.

The general message that the transport board likely took away from the hearing was that the bus routes aren't really needed, but it's nice to have the option.

The irony is that such services are actually more valuable in places like Northern Manitoba where they're most likely to lose money - at least for a select few, who otherwise would have no transportation.

Too bad for them that Greyhound is a business, not only designed but obligated to make money.

It doesn't necessarily have to be that way.

In B.C., the scattered Gulf Islands, many of which are too sparsely populated to warrant it otherwise, have regular ferry service because it's considered part of the highway system and the government - which owns the ferry corporation at arm's length - operates it at a loss, making up for it on the bigger, more popular routes - to the dismay of those who pay for those truly valued services, which cost more as a result.

Think the provincial government is interested in subsidizing bus transportation in Northern Manitoba?

In the City of Thompson's presentation, Mayor Tim Johnston pointed out that the east-west connection in Northern Manitoba used to be vital - before Highway 6 and Highway 10 were completed. City manager Randy Patrick, appearing not in an official capacity but speaking on his own behalf, suggested Greyhound hadn't kept up with the times, saying, "It's not the same business it was in the 1950s."

The east-west connection was important (note the past tense): there was no other option. The road to Winnipeg started in The Pas. It doesn't any more and the connection is no longer vital.

In the 1950s, the bus business may have been booming, not in Northern Manitoba, but elsewhere, where it was still about putting people with no better way to travel on a vehicle for a price. These days, we've got cars with DVD and MP3 players, electrical outlets and built-in coolers.

It's the customers who've changed. Taking the bus is no longer a part of many people's lifestyles.

The Flin Flon-Thompson route may have been vital in the past, it just doesn't look like it has much of a future.

At some point, it's time to abandon heroic measures, accept the inevitable and move on. Instead, the objectors at the transport board hearing wanted consultation, compromise and discussions on how to increase ridership.

But, like the desperate dumpee who tries to bargain his way back into his partner's favour, they're just living in denial.

Once you've reached that point, it's all over but the crying.

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