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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Greyhound's demise shows more than ever that we need intercity public transit

We need a national, public bus system that is run as an intercity transit service and not as a for profit enterprise.

Since 2018 when the iconic bus company pulled out of western Canada the writing has been on the wall for Greyhound Canada.

Now, after the impact of the pandemic, the company today announced it is shutting down all its remaining routes permanently. Around 300 jobs will be lost and additional communities will be impacted.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) -- which represents Greyhound workers -- president John Di Nino said of the news:

The collapse of Greyhound was not a foregone conclusion; this could have been avoided if our federal and provincial governments actually cared about those in remote communities who relied on intercity bus service.

And he is absolutely correct. The solution to the problem has been obvious for a very long time.

We need a national, public bus line that is run as an intercity transit service and not as a for profit enterprise.

As I wrote in 2018, as a business decision this step by Greyhound Canada makes perfect sense. Private businesses exist to make a profit, not to deliver a social need or service. Should the delivery of social needs and services make a profit then private enterprises will be happy to maintain them. As soon as they don't, this is what happens.

The concept of intercity public transit or transportation networks is one that governments in North America have almost entirely abandoned for decades now. Many previously existing intercity public transit or transportation networks or companies were discontinued or privatized.

Those that have not been, such as the Ontario Northland Motor Coach Services -- which is operated by a Crown agency -- are run entirely according to the logic of the market and neoliberal ideas of how to mange "public" services. (We have looked at this logic before in articles like: Canada Post's 'problems' are driven by the neo-liberal assault on public services).

In Ontario Northland's case, for example, bus fares are hefty. If an adult riding by themselves wanted to take the 11.00 am bus from Toronto to Sault Ste Marie this Friday the fare would be $148.45. That is for one single ticket, one way. In addition the Ontario Liberal government axed the Northlander train that connected many communities from Toronto to Cochrane in 2012 as the route was a money loser.

Again, the government used market concepts to dictate what to do with what should be seen as a public service that exists to encourage mass transportation usage, to connect communities and to allow people who do not own cars to travel.

But one has to ask, what will it take before governments in Canada abandon the neoliberal approach to transit and transportation and begin to view it, build the networks and run them as both an essential service for many millions of people and as a key tool in combating climate change?

The only long-term solution to providing accessible and affordable intercity and intercommunity transit is to build and maintain public bus and train lines that are run for the people as a service and not for profit.



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