FlixBus is expanding into Canada with domestic service routes with Toronto and Ottawa connections, benefitting from Ontario’s deregulation in 2021 and Greyhound’s shutdown of its Canadian operations.
In addition to an express route between Ottawa-Toronto, FlixBus debuted a Niagara Falls-Toronto line, including a stop in St. Catharines, as well as a more comprehensive local line with stops including the University of Waterloo, downtown Kitchener, Guelph, Mississauga and Toronto.
The start of Ontario domestic service is just the first phase of a planned expansion, with cross-border routes to and from the U.S. planned for this summer.
When the Ontario intercity bus market was deregulated in 2021, the door opened for new mobility providers like FlixBus to begin service. Previously, companies had to prove public need and necessity to receive permission from the government to start routes.
Even now, the government isn’t making it easy for the private motorcoach industry to compete, says Larry Hundt, owner of Great Canadian Coaches and Holidays and a former United Motorcoach Association Board Member.
“The best line runs here in Ontario is the one that goes from Montreal to Toronto, and probably second to that is Montreal to Ottawa. Because regulations still exist in Quebec, FlixBus can’t do those routes,” said Hundt.
Quebec has granted authority for the Montreal to Ottawa route to the Montreal-based Orleans Express, while Coach Canada operates the Montreal to Toronto route, he says
Still not a level playing field
Quebec has granted authority for the Montreal-to-Ottawa route to the Montreal-based Orleans Express, while Coach Canada operates the Montreal to Toronto route, he said.
“I would say that it’s a matter of time before the Quebec public starts to see that regulation is very costly for the consumer,” Hundt said. “Fares in Ontario are already dropping because there is competition.”
One of the barriers for companies entering the market is escalating insurance rates, a result of a limited number of insurance providers.
Hundt said FlixBus is going head-to-head with GO Transit, the region’s government-subsidized transit service. It isn’t a level playing field because GO Transit doesn’t collect harmonized sales tax (HST), a combination of federal and provincial taxes on goods and services in five Canadian provinces. In Ontario, the goods and services tax is 13%.
“They don’t charge it, but we as private carriers have to, which is very unfair,” Hundt said. “They should be encouraging us because we reduce congestion by taking 56 cars off the road.”
On top of that, GO Transit is launching a heavily discounted $10 fare deal for the summer to Niagara Falls.
“It’s ludicrous for a government-subsidized operation to be charging $10 for a fare,” said Hundt. “It’s pretty sad if we have to compete with the government.”
Plans delayed by pandemic
FlixBus entered the North America market in 2018 when it began service in the U.S. It had long-term plans to expand into Canada, but they were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said. Now that restrictions are being lifted and the demand for travel is coming back, FlixBus says the timing is right to bring new options for eco-friendly travel, value and convenience for Canadians.
“FlixBus is making sustainable bus travel comfortable, affordable and easy-to-use for everyone,” André Schwämmlein, founder and CEO of FlixBus, said in a statement. “Our success in Europe and the ongoing growth in the U.S., Brazil and now Canada proves that with a smart business approach and a great product, FlixBus can globally change the way people travel and help them discover the benefits of shared, green, intercity bus transportation.”
The digitalization of the traditional bus market has been FlixBus’ strategy for success across Europe and in the U.S. With new buses, free Wi-Fi, power outlets at every seat, carbon-neutral ticketing options, and tech solutions like the FlixBus App, FlixBus had focused on making intercity travel by bus not just an affordable option, but the preferred choice for passengers looking to experience the world, no matter their budget.
“Ontario is a dream bus market with some of North America’s most vibrant cities, and we are immensely happy to begin building connections here,” said Pierre Gourdain, Managing Director of FlixBus North America. “We also hope the service will offer Ontarians a financial reprieve in a context of rising gas prices with a green mobility alternative to help riders rediscover this wonderful province.”
The FlixBus Canadian domestic network will feature new connections running from Waterloo-Toronto and the Niagara Falls-Toronto corridor, including stops in downtown Kitchener, Guelph, Mississauga and St. Catharines, as well as an express service on the Ottawa-Toronto route.
Ottawa-Toronto will run Thursday-Monday with one trip in each direction per day, while Niagara Falls-Toronto and Waterloo-Toronto will run daily service in each direction, with service doubled on Thursdays-Mondays.
The company’s first local partner, Gallexy Tours, is operating the company’s new Canadian domestic network. The Ontario bus company has been serving Toronto for the past 20 years, primarily providing charter services, according to FlixBus.
“We could not be more proud or excited to partner with FlixBus on the launch of the Canadian market,” said Dilan Jey, with Gallexy Tours. “FlixBus came to us with a vision for what the future of intercity bus travel will look like. Together, we have a unique opportunity to reshape how passengers travel.
“Now, after planning and preparing throughout COVID for this moment, we are ready for the main event, which is to provide new transportation for travelers in Canada and eventually connect passengers between the U.S. and Canada.”