Greyhound Canada shutdown highlights subsidy inequities

After 92 years of service, Greyhound Canada shut down May 13, ending the intercity bus carrier’s operations and discontinuing all operations on its remaining routes in Ontario and Quebec. 

The private carrier attributed the decision to sustained ridership declines in the two provinces, and a lack of support from the federal government, which subsidizes other modes of transportation.

The loss of Greyhound Canada is a major blow to Canada’s ability to connect people and communities, and highlights the need for specific government support for private motorcoach providers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, said Vince Accardi, President of Motor Coach Canada and the Ontario Motor Coach Association.

“Our members link smaller communities and big cities; they offer an affordable and convenient mode of travel for everyone from essential workers to students. They depend on ridership for revenues and often find themselves competing with government-subsidized services. It will be vital to Canadians to ensure that they have transportation options,” Accardi said in a statement. 

No impact in U.S.

The announcement is expected to have no impact on Greyhound Lines’ operations within the United States, which will continue to operate cross-border express services on the following routes when the border reopens: Toronto to New York and Buffalo, Montreal to New York and Boston, and Vancouver to Seattle.

Greyhound Canada
A Greyhound Canada bus in Toronto in 2014. (Courtesy of Raysonho)

“A full year without revenue has unfortunately made it impossible to continue operations,” Stuart Kendrick, Senior Vice President of Greyhound Canada, said in a statement. 

In an email to Bus & Motorcoach News, the 35-year veteran of Greyhound said his employer’s closure emphasizes the need to support the remaining carriers in the market.

“The recovery of all private tour and bus companies for future travel within Ontario, Canada and North America is vital to the economy,” Kendrick said.

More difficulties ahead

The decision comes a year after Greyhound Canada — like other operators — temporarily suspended all service in May 2020 due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, causing ridership to drop by 95%. 

If the past year had been difficult, things weren’t expected to get easier. The Ontario government’s plans to deregulate the intercommunity bus industry starting in July would end Greyhound Canada’s exclusive control of certain routes.

The bus carrier has struggled for years with declining ridership, increasing competition and deregulation. In response, the frequency of some Greyhound routes was reduced and others cut altogether — especially in rural areas. In 2018, Greyhound suspended service in the western part of Canada.

“Sadly, with a huge country with a sparse population, it is difficult to operate without government support, which they have been asking for,” said Larry Hundt, owner of Great Canadian Coaches in Kitchener, Ontario, and a United Motorcoach Association board member, representing Canada. 

Serious repercussions

Hundt said the dire situation is an example of how government neglect and support to rail, air and transit has left some serious repercussions for the private motorcoach industry in Canada.

“There are all kinds of attempts being made to fill in the gaps across the country and now, the Ontario market, with deregulation, has put the final nail into Greyhound’s coffin. There will be serious scrambling going on to replace this service that Greyhound has not been operating at all through the pandemic. No grant money for Greyhound and most others to maintain services during COVID, further adding to the pain,” Hundt said. 

The loss of Greyhound service will be a major blow for many across Canada who depend on a patchwork of intercity buses to provide an affordable and convenient mode of travel between big cities and smaller communities.

‘We don’t get subsidies’

Multiple private bus companies teamed up to approach the federal and provincial governments for financial aid amid mounting COVID-19 restrictions. But ultimately, the beleaguered passenger transportation industry was largely ignored.

“There’s really been a lack of support. We don’t get subsidies,” Kendrick told the Canadian Press, noting that intercity bus carriers are also competing with publicly funded train and transit systems, putting private companies at a disadvantage.

Greyhound laid off the bulk of its workforce — about 260 employees — in May 2020, and the remaining 45 will be pink-slipped with the company’s permanent closure. The company plans to sell the bus stations it owns, according to news reports.

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