Bus service to Winnipeg in jeopardy

Less than two weeks after Greyhound Canada got the thumbs-up on an application to reduce bus service to parts of Northwestern Ontario, including Fort Frances, by 40 percent, the bus provider has made a move to permanently discontinue its service Winnipeg to this area.
New regulations put in place by the U.S. government earlier this year now prevent Greyhound from taking parcels or freight across the border—a regulation the bus company complained has negatively impacted its bottom line.
Because all buses destined for this area from Manitoba must cross the border twice, the Winnipeg-Fort Frances is no longer economically viable, they said.
The bus spends about 45 minutes in the U.S. between Warroad and Baudette.
But Kenora-Rainy River MPP Howard Hampton said that conclusion is premature.
“My argument is going to be that in the short-run, they should be required to maintain the route,” Hampton said Monday. “It’s too early to tell if it is economically viable or not.”
Hampton noted that, for a number of reasons, it’s most likely bus traffic from Rainy River District to Winnipeg actually will increase in the fall and winter months—and will continue to rise in the future.
“You have a lot of students from our constituency that go to the University of Manitoba or the University of Winnipeg or Red River College, and many of them take the bus,” he argued.
“For that reason, bus traffic will likely increase in the fall.
“As well, people who need to see a medical specialist, increasingly they are being referred to Winnipeg and not to Thunder Bay,” Hampton added.
On July 20, the Manitoba Motor Transport Board gave Greyhound the go-ahead to make cuts to both its Winnipeg-Thunder Bay route and Winnipeg-Fort Frances route.
As was reported in the Times on July 27, there currently are seven arrivals and seven departures between Fort Frances and Thunder Bay each week. Effective Monday, that number will be reduced to five.
Between Fort Frances and Winnipeg, there currently are 10 arrivals and departures each week, which also will be reduced to five.
Because the service originates in Winnipeg, bus schedules to this area are subject to Manitoba regulations, which state a public hearing must be held before major changes can be made.
Hampton said it will be one of his priorities to make sure this region has a powerful voice when those hearings are held. And he urged municipal leaders and the general public affected by the proposed cuts to get involved, too.
“This is not just a question of convenience,” Hampton said. “For many, especially for a lot of the seniors, the bus is almost a medical necessity.
“For some people, flying into Winnipeg on Bearskin Air might be an option but for someone living on a fixed income, that’s not an option,” he said. “The bus is the only option for literally thousands of people.
“And we’ve got to impress that on the Manitoba Transport Board and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.”
But eventually, Hampton said, the federal government will have to address the regulations keeping freight—unless it is electronically registered in advance—from crossing the U.S. border, even for just a brief period of time.
Since U.S. Customs and Border Protection implemented the rule in January, all parcels shipped between Winnipeg and Fort Frances have been transported through Thunder Bay—making same-day service impossible.
“In the long-run, I think the federal government has got to get involved and say to our neighbours in the south ‘This is a bit ridiculous,’” Hampton said. “Just as the proposal on passports is over the top, this regulation is over the top, as well.”
In the past, Hampton noted, Greyhound operators were forbidden from unlocking their freight compartments in the United States, so no packages were being dropped off or inadvertently left in that country.
“There were already protections in place,” he said.
If Greyhound does get its way and the Manitoba Motor Transport Board approves the move to discontinue the Winnipeg-Fort Frances route, residents of Rainy River District will have only two options for busing to the Manitoba capital.
One alternative is to take the Excel bus to Kenora and then transfer onto a Greyhound bus en route to Winnipeg. The other is to go Greyhound all the way—travelling east to Thunder Bay before looping back towards Manitoba.