End of Line

Fort McMurray Today - - FRONT PAGE - AMANDA STEPHEN­SON

Prov­ince de­mands ac­tion as Grey­hound leaves west­ern Canada.

Premier Rachel Not­ley is call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to step up with trans­porta­tion solutions in the wake of Grey­hound’s sur­prise an­nounce­ment that it will be can­celling all but one of its bus routes in West­ern Canada.

The Al­berta gov­ern­ment will do every­thing it can to as­sist ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties left without vi­tal trans­porta­tion con­nec­tions as a re­sult of Grey­hound’s pull­out, Not­ley told re­porters in Cal­gary on Tues­day.

She said the prov­ince is al­ready talk­ing to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment about how best to re­place the ser­vices that will be lost when the bus com­pany axes op­er­a­tions in Oc­to­ber.

“At the end of the day, it goes across bor­ders,” Not­ley said. “I would say the abil­ity to ac­cess trans­porta­tion around our coun­try is a na­tional is­sue.”

Grey­hound Canada’s de­ci­sion to pull out of West­ern Canada has sent shock waves through Al­berta’s small and mid-sized com­mu­ni­ties, where the bus is some­times the only form of pub­lic trans­porta­tion avail­able to res­i­dents trav­el­ling for med­i­cal ap­point­ments, shop­ping, or to visit fam­ily.

Women’s ad­vo­cates have raised con­cerns that Grey­hound’s exit could com­pro­mise the abil­ity of vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence to flee dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions.

“This is a blow for lower in­come peo­ple who just need to move around and get places,” said Medicine Hat Mayor Ted Clugston. “I know when I was in univer­sity, I used the Grey­hound to get to Cal­gary and back. I don’t know what I would have done if it hadn’t been around at the time.”

Grey­hound, which cited a 41 per cent de­cline in rid­er­ship since 2010 as its rea­son for Mon­day’s an­nounce­ment, has been slowly re­duc­ing ser­vice to ru­ral Al­berta for years as small-town pop­u­la­tions dwin­dle and car own­er­ship grows.

Vul­can Mayor Tom Grant said the bus used to come through his town twice a day, and lo­cal se­niors would reg­u­larly ride it to Cal­gary or just to nearby High River. Now the bus stops in Vul­can just once, in the mid­dle of the night.

“It’s not as con­ve­nient as it used to be,” Grant said. “But there are still some that use it. I think this is some­thing that’s go­ing to af­fect all small, ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.”

The Al­berta gov­ern­ment has long been con­cerned about dwin­dling trans­porta­tion op­tions in small com­mu­ni­ties — re­in­stat­ing more bus ser­vices to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties was part of the NDP’S 2015 elec­tion plat­form.

In March, the gov­ern­ment an­nounced a pi­lot project aimed at con­nect­ing medium-sized cities with sur­round­ing ru­ral and smaller ur­ban mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties. Un­der the terms of the project, the City of Cam­rose will re­ceive two grants worth al­most $600,000 to es­tab­lish a reg­u­lar bus shut­tle ser­vice be­tween Cam­rose and Ed­mon­ton and to hire a re­gional tran­sit co-or­di­na­tor who will over­see ride-shar­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties in the area.

Grande Prairie County will re­ceive nearly $640,000 to con­nect Sex­smith, Clair­mont, Wem­b­ley, Beaver­lodge and Hythe with the City of Grande Prairie’s ex­ist­ing tran­sit sys­tem, while the M.D. of Spirit River will get $200,000 to ex­pand its ex­ist­ing van ser­vice be­tween Spirit River, Rycroft and Grande Prairie.

In the wake of Grey­hound’s exit, Not­ley said the gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to ex­plore other ideas to ad­dress what she called a “fun­da­men­tal is­sue around the ba­sic right to trans­porta­tion.”

There are many dif­fer­ent tran­sit op­tions that, with some gov­ern­ment sup­port, could help ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, said Ru­ral Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties of Al­berta pres­i­dent Al Kem­mere.

“Even a ru­ral form of Uber, or a stronger ru­ral taxi pro­gram or some­thing like that may be some­thing that can be sup­ported some­how by the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment,” he said.

Even within ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, how­ever, not ev­ery­one be­lieves gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tion is the so­lu­tion.

“If the Grey­hounds and Red Ar­rows of the world don’t think it’s vi­able, it’s pretty hard for me to say tax­payer dol­lars should go to­ward it,” said Grant, the Vul­can mayor. “Un­for­tu­nately, I think it’s just a sign of the times for a lot of our smaller com­mu­ni­ties with de­clin­ing pop­u­la­tions.”

With files from James Wood

DAR­REN MAKOWICHUK/POST­MEDIA

Grey­hound Canada has an­nounced they will be shut­ting down the tran­sit de­pot in Cal­gary on Mon­day July 9, 2018.

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