Bus service to be cut by 40 percent

After having received the go-ahead from the Manitoba Motor Transport Board, Greyhound Canada is planning to reduce its bus service across Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, including a 40 percent reduction in arrivals and departures here in Fort Frances.
The proposed changes are scheduled to take effect Aug. 15, but Ontario law states that both the Minister of Transportation and the public must have a minimum of 30 days’ notice before any service cuts of more than 25 percent can be made.
“We are aware of the frequencies in regards to the reductions in the area, and we are posting [it] as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for Greyhound said Tuesday.
Last Thursday, the Manitoba Motor Transport Board approved most of Greyhound’s requests to reduce or discontinue service to communities throughout that province.
But the board’s decision also will have an impact here because the Winnipeg-Thunder Bay trip is considered one route.
Paul Bock, owner of North Air Services here, said there currently are seven arrivals and seven departures between Fort Frances and Thunder Bay each week.
That number will be reduced to five.
Between Fort Frances and Winnipeg, there currently are 10 arrivals and departures each week, which will be reduced to five.
“For the present time, that’s what they’re looking at doing,” Bock said.
In Manitoba, major service reductions must be approved by the Motor Transport Board—an independent economic regulatory tribunal whose mandate is to ensure Manitobans are provided adequate transportation service at a reasonable cost.
Greyhound applied to the board for the route changes in late 2004. The request was followed by public hearings in potentially affected communities in March and April.
No such board exists in Ontario, but transportation providers like Greyhound are bound by the Public Vehicles Act.
The act states that, in the case of inter-city travel, the company must notify the Minister of Transportation and the public at least 90 days in advance of cancelling a route outright, known as “full route abandonment.”
If the company wants to make major reductions, which includes reductions of 25 percent or more of total weekly arrivals and departures, it must provide 30 days’ advance notice to the public and the minister.
Public notice generally is done through newspaper advertising and signs posted at scheduled stops.
“The minister does not have any authority to prevent service reductions or cancellations from occurring,” said ministry spokesperson Bob Nichols.
Even in the case of a service reduction of less than 25 percent, the company is required to notify the minister and the public, but not necessarily 30 days in advance.
Nichols said he could not confirm whether or not Greyhound had contacted the ministry regarding the proposed changes.
In addition to fewer arrivals and departures, Bock said there also will be schedule changes, with most departures occurring in the morning and arrivals in the evening.
This will allow people to go to the city and return on the same day, he noted.
The Thunder Bay bus likely will run Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, with no service on Tuesday or Saturday.
The through run between Winnipeg and Thunder Bay via Fort Frances has been cancelled, but routes that run between the two cities through Dryden and Kenora are still available.
“Generally, we’ve been getting some complaints over it, but the ridership just isn’t there,” said Bock. “That’s the bottom line, and that’s one of the reasons they’re cancelling the runs.
“The one to Winnipeg is largely to do with the fact that freight can’t go through the U.S. border any more. That’s what’s making that run less than viable,” he added.
Bus service in Fort Frances took a blow Jan. 1 when Greyhound began shipping packages destined for Winnipeg through Thunder Bay, rather than crossing into the U.S. at Rainy River.
The change was due to a new process at U.S. Customs called the Customs Automated Forms Entry System (CAFES), which requires all freight travelling through the U.S. to be electronically registered in advance.
The bus from Fort Frances to Winnipeg spends about 45 minutes in the U.S. between Baudette and Warroad, Mn.
Prior to Jan. 1, Greyhound would seal the compartments containing freight to meet U.S. security regulations, but this no longer is sufficient.
Because there no longer is any freight on the bus, the route has become difficult to finance.
“I think the Winnipeg run may be in jeopardy in the long run, but they’re going to try it for a few weeks and see how it holds up,” said Bock. “The freight just isn’t there to justify it any more.”
While the community is losing a large portion of its bus service, there may be some positive aspects to the change.
“Hopefully the timing is better for freight and better for customers so they don’t have to overnight,” Bock said. “So far it’s at least palatable.”
The changes in service will have an effect on the local bus depot, too.
“Our hours of operation may change, our staffing may change,” Bock explained. “The afternoons when we’re busy now probably won’t be very busy at all.”
The Manitoba board also approved a two percent fare increase, as well as a 2.9 percent special fuel surcharge to be reviewed by the board at any time with respect to gasoline prices.