B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) may have approved a reduction of the minimum routes for Greyhound’s bus service in the Sea to Sky corridor last week, but it appears the company is open to input as to how those cuts are applied.
Greyhound made an application to the PTB last fall to eliminate a ski bus route on Vancouver island and reduce its minimum route frequency on 15 routes including its service between Vancouver to Mount Currie.
The decision to approve the service cuts was announced last Wednesday (Jan. 16) and included a requirement of providing 21 days notice for changes in the Sea to Sky corridor, meaning they will not come into effect until Feb. 6.
Coun. Jack Crompton said Greyhound has asked to meet with officials from the Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) to discuss the changes.
Crompton said he is hopeful the company will be receptive to input into its scheduling that considers when visitors and workers commuting from Squamish need the service the most.
“Our hope is that the flexibility they have will result in service at the right times,” he said.
Greyhound’s submission to the PTB included the fact that the company lost $14.1 million on scheduled passenger operations in B.C. in the 2011/12 fiscal year.
The company described the loss as “unsustainable” and attributed it to higher costs for fuel and maintenance, reduced ridership, an inflexible provincial regulatory regime that does not allow it to respond quickly to market and economic changes and unregulated competition from provincial agencies including BC Transit and the Interior and Northern Health Authority.
If the service cuts were not approved, Greyhound indicated it could be forced to halt its operations in the province altogether.
In its decision the PTB stated it must balance the public’s need for a service with Greyhound’s ability to maintain a financially viable service. In the Sea to Sky corridor specifically it approved a minimum route frequencies that varied between communities.
The Vancouver to Squamish bus was reduced to four round trips per day from the current seven. The Vancouver to Whistler was reduced to four round trips per day from eight while scheduled trips between Whistler and Pemberton were cut to three from four.
The District of Squamish, Resort Municipality of Whistler, Village of Pemberton and Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) were among the five government bodies that sent comments to the PTB objecting to the move. An additional 35 comments were received from businesses and individuals.
Chamber of Commerce President Fiona Famulak said she has not heard from the organization’s membership with respect to how the changes would affect local businesses, but they are concerned because they compromise the ability of workers and guests to access the resort.
She noted, however, that a transportation study prior to the 2010 Olympics showed that many employees, especially from Squamish, carpool to Whistler for work. In addition to that she pointed out that Whistler Housing Authority recent housing survey showed that 82 per cent of the resort’s workforce now live in Whistler.
“That means it will have less of an impact than a few years ago when more of our workforce lived outside the community,” she said, adding that without more detailed data on commuters it is not possible to comment in more detail on what the effect on the cuts would be. “On the positive side, the cuts appear to be driven by the need for Greyhound to manage costs, which is totally understandable in this business climate.”
The news that Greyhound is looking for input from the RMOW into the new reduced schedule was a positive for Famulak.
“I am glad to hear it is not a blanket cut without consideration being given to the demand,” she said.
Pemberton Mayor Jordan Sturdy, meanwhile, expressed concern about the effect the service cuts will have to that rural community.
“I would describe it as a critical piece to the transportation infrastructure, or the transportation opportunities we have here to either get to Whistler, or beyond to Vancouver,” Sturdy said. “It does limit people’s mobility, especially if they don’t have private vehicles.”
It is those who do not own vehicles that caused the most concern for Sturdy and the possibility that local governments, and taxpayers, will be on the hook to subsidize public transit as a result.
“It increases the importance of regional transit services,” he said. “If Greyhound has a monopoly on providing this service, by default it falls to local governments and BC Transit to fill the gaps in need.”