Passenger board approves application to trim service on 15 routes in B.C.

JANUARY 24, 2013

DAVID BURKE DBURKE@SQUAMISHCHIEF.COM

Greyhound’s move to slash Squamish service by almost half will hit Anne Jackson in the pocket book.

Five days a week, Jackson’s husband, who asked to remain anonymous, relies on the Greyhound to get to work in Whistler. On Wednesday (Jan. 16), B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) approved Greyhound Canada’s application to eliminate 15 B.C. routes and Jackson’s getting ready to count her pennies.

“I think it will affect us in a financial way,” she said.

The cuts have forced the family to consider buying a second vehicle, Jackson said. With a new baby boy born into the family last week, it’s a move Jackson was hoping she could cross off the list. The family has already had to dish out more cash when Greyhound axed its commuter passes, she said, noting the individual tickets aren’t tax refundable.

“(The commuter pass) was a tax credit and it helped us last year,” Jackson said.

The family is in a wait-and-see mode, Jackson said. Only after the cuts are in place will she fully understand the impact of the board’s decision.

“We are going to lose time with the family,” she said, noting the new schedule.

In its PTB application, Greyhound argued that it lost $14.1 million on its B.C. operations in 2011 and that cuts to the minimum number of required daily buses on the 15 routes were necessary to avoid eliminating the service altogether.

The minimum number of daily buses between Vancouver and Squamish is being cut from seven to four and from Vancouver to Whistler from eight to four. For the Sea to Sky Corridor route, the PTB attached a special condition that Greyhound provide 21-day notice to its passengers, meaning the service reductions will take effect on Feb. 6.

Local politicians had voiced opposition to the proposed cuts. The District of Squamish, Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW), Village of Pemberton and Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) were among the government bodies that sent comments to the PTB objecting to the move.

On Oct. 9, Squamish Coun. Patricia Heintzman — now also the chair of the SLRD — said at a Squamish Transit Standing Committee meeting, “We need to cohesively send a clear message that this is unacceptable.”

Grant Odsen, Greyhound’s regional manager of passenger service, told the Kamloops Daily News that the company lost “close to $18 million” in B.C. in 2012, adding that ridership demand simply didn’t support the level of service being offered.

“It’s a long-term trend, I guess you could say,” he said. “The schedules are historical; they’ve been there a long time.”

In its decision, the PTB said Pemberton, which will see the number of daily buses from Whistler cut from four to three, “should not be impacted in a significant manner.” Whistler Transit also operates regular service between Whistler, Pemberton and Mount Currie, it noted.

“With regard to transportation options between Squamish and Whistler, [Greyhound] has stated that it will keep operating four daily schedules in each direction. The Board notes that schedules operate throughout the day, and that schedule 5078 arrives in Whistler at 9:30.”

Of the 40 comments received from those in the Sea to Sky Corridor, 12 came from Squamish residents.

The PTB noted that about half were from those who rely on Greyhound to get to and from work in Whistler. One said the cancellation in late 2011 of the regular Whistler-Squamish commuter service run by B.C. Transit “did not increase [Greyhound’s] ridership — and that the overall result is less use of bus transportation options,” the board stated.

In its response to these concerns, Greyhound officials noted that the B.C. Transit commuter service was cancelled after the RMOW declined to continue its funding for the service “without any regulatory oversight.”

“[Greyhound] notes its surprise that neither ‘Whistler nor the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District would directly acknowledge that they are advocating that a private-sector company should be forced to operate money-losing commuter bus services that had previously been provided by B.C. Transit,’” the PTB stated, quoting from Greyhound’s response.

B.C. Transit is initiating a study to examine exactly what it would take to implement a regional transportation service, Squamish Coun. Susan Chapelle said.

“We have not been able to put numbers to anything. And we can’t make any decisions if we don’t have a number,” she said, noting this research could shed light on dollar figures.

The study is starting this month and is expected to be complete by the end of the year, Chapelle said.

Up to 3,000 Squamish residents commute to work outside of the community, she noted. The area needs regional transportation to accommodate those residents and grow municipalities, Chapelle said. But money for such a service has to come somewhere, she added.

“It is all what the taxpayer is willing to pay for,” Chapelle said.

— With files from Rebecca Aldous, The Chief

http://www.squamishchief.com/article/20130124/SQUAMISH0101/301249990/-1/squamish/greyhound-service-cuts-to-impact-commuters