B.C. needs public highway bus service say Council of Canadians members

2018 January 21, by Chapter Council

Province Public Bus ServiceCheck out this op-ed by Council of Canadians members Joanne Banks (Campbell River), Bruce Bidgood (Terrace) and Eric Doherty (Victoria Chapter).

B.C. needs public highway bus service

Greyhound is threatening to pull out of northern B.C. and many smaller communities across the province unless it gets a public subsidy. We think the best answer to their threat is to establish a publicly owned and operated highway bus network.

A public bus company to connect communities is an old idea. In 1946, Tommy Douglas’s first Co-operative Commonwealth Federation government established the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, or STC. STC efficiently provided essential passenger and freight services to rural and urban residents until Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall shut it down last summer.

Like B.C. Ferries and public transit in urban areas, STC was publicly funded. The people of Saskatchewan thought that was money well spent. According to an editorial in the Regina Leader-Post, “readers reacted with almost unanimous opposition” to the idea of shutting down the STC and leaving smaller communities without bus service. If highway bus service is going to be publicly funded, it should be run as a public service instead of handing it over to a private corporation. Like urban public transit, highway bus service needs to operate as a unified network, with shared ticketing. Seamless transfers are an essential part of high-quality highway bus service.

The wildfires in the Interior last summer illustrate why B.C. needs a public highway bus service. Instead of stepping up to help those struggling to keep safe, Greyhound left people in communities like 100 Mile House without service. When the evacuation was ordered, seniors from 100 Mile ended up travelling overnight on uncomfortable school buses to Prince George. B.C. needs a public highway bus service with a clear mandate and capacity to help in emergencies.

One of the benefits of good highway bus service is safety. The recently established B.C. Transit bus service between communities on the Highway of Tears is largely about providing safe transportation for Indigenous women and girls. But the Highway of Tears isn’t the only place in B.C. where rural women have to choose between isolation and the danger of hitchhiking.

The danger of highway crashes is also a crucial issue. Parents in rural areas all know that young drivers travelling long distances on snowy highways sometimes don’t arrive safely. Many seniors don’t feel capable of long winter driving trips, particularly when medical treatment is the reason for travel.

Regardless of age, driving long distances in cars is a hazardous undertaking; leaving more of the highway driving to professionals is common sense.

It’s also common sense that we need to reorient transportation away from over-dependence on private automobiles to fulfil Canada’s Paris climate commitments. The federal-provincial Climate Framework commits B.C. to shift transportation spending away from urban freeway expansion projects, which is an obvious way to fund a public highway bus service.

Climate action in the transportation sector can’t be isolated to the largest urban areas. People need to be able to move safely and efficiently between communities throughout the province. Would you choose to save money and reduce your carbon footprint by living without a car if that meant you couldn’t get to your hometown to visit your friends and family? The B.C. NDP won’t be able to meet their promise to reduce greenhouse gas pollution from transportation by 30 per cent in only 12 years without much better highway bus service.

Good highway bus service is also essential for the economic health of smaller communities, and the province as a whole. If you need a car to get there, tourism is unlikely to thrive now that so many younger people don’t own cars. And if you need a car to get to and from your rural town, both seniors and younger people are less likely to want to live there.

A public highway bus service would improve the economic, environmental and social health of B.C. communities large and small. Greyhound has shown that they’re not up to the job.

Joanne Banks, Bruce Bidgood and Eric Doherty are Council of Canadians members.

Joanne Banks, Bruce Bidgood and Eric Doherty: B.C. needs public highway bus service