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From Pivot Magazine

The aftermath of Greyhound’s Canadian departure

Why existing regional coach lines are pushing for a “Coast-to-Coast Bus Coalition” to establish a national bus network

a bus is shown driving through an intersection in a cityCoach Atlantic Maritime Bus—run by a family of accountants—operates across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I., and is part of the coalition proposing a national bus line (Courtesy of Coach Atlantic Transportation Group)

For residents of the small cities and towns that dot Eastern Canada’s roadways, the demise of Greyhound Canada came as a shock. The iconic bus operator had mothballed its fleet in the spring of 2020 when COVID-19 caused ridership to dry up. But, earlier this year, after nearly a century in operation and three years after pulling out of Western Canada, the company made its exit from Canada permanent. 

Some rival bus companies, like Megabus, have already jumped in to close the gap on prime routes between major cities like Toronto, Ottawa and Kingston, Ont., where demand is high. Orléans Express in Quebec offers a popular service between Ottawa and Quebec City. Meanwhile, Ontario Northland, a provincial crown transport operator, announced the return of rail service to northern Ontario starting around 2025 after being shut down in 2012. Still, Canada has been left with a fragmented intercity bus system that advocates say leaves many communities with dramatically reduced service and short-changes rural residents, Indigenous riders, students and budget-conscious travellers.   

Enter the contenders hoping to build a new national bus network. One initiative is being led by Regina-based Rider Express, which launched in 2017 and now connects roughly 50 cities and towns between Vancouver and Winnipeg. The company had set its sights on expanding into Ontario and Quebec before Greyhound left Canada, but Greyhound’s departure has given that plan new urgency.

Rider is in the process of doubling its fleet of 12 buses in order to better service Ontario and Quebec, but isn’t planning to go it alone. The company has been in talks with Ontario Northland about linking its booking systems and schedules so passengers can easily plan longer trips and is looking for other partners to expand its network further east. “It’s not always easy or financially viable to do it all ourselves, so we’re seeking synergies we can build on,” says Rider general manager Omer Kanca.

Thanks to its more streamlined business model, Kanca believes Rider can succeed where Greyhound failed. It doesn’t exclusively run its buses out of major terminals, instead partnering with gas stations, rest areas and hotels to act as transit stops and maintains a thin management structure that further keeps costs down. However, Kanca says some government support would be needed to ensure it and its partners can break even on remote, low-traffic routes.

a bus is shown driving on a two lane bridge over a large body of waterA Coach Atlantic Maritime Bus makes its way across the Confederation Bridge (Courtesy of Coach Atlantic Transportation Group)

Meanwhile, in February, four regional motorcoach companies formed a “Coast-to-Coast Bus Coalition” to propose an extensive national bus network covering essential routes using shared software for booking reservations and shipping packages. One of the companies, Coach Atlantic Maritime Bus, is run by a family of accountants—founder Mike Cassidy is an FCPA and his wife, Mary Jane, and their three sons are all CPAs. Coach Atlantic operates scheduled bus service across Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and P.E.I., as well as charters, school buses and airport transportation.

Along with the other bus companies that make up the coalition (Wilson’s Group in Victoria, Calgary-based Pacific Western Group and Kasper Transportation in Thunder Bay, Ont.), Cassidy envisions a “trans-Canada bus line” supported by the federal government through subsidies for the capital costs of new intercity buses, similar to what’s in place for municipal transit services. “If you’re providing scheduled daily line run service, that’s public transit on provincial highways,” he says.

Supporters of the proposal point to the need to provide safe and affordable transportation to rural and Indigenous communities.

“It makes sense to have an eco­system of regional players rather than one big monolithic behemoth [like Greyhound],” says Terence Johnson, president of Transport Action Canada, a consumer advocacy group, which wrote a letter to federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra backing the coalition’s plan.

Whether this push for a national bus network works or not depends a lot on federal support, says Cassidy. Without that, he predicts a further deterioration of intercity bus service. “I think you’ll see those carriers redefine what level of responsibility they should carry within their region,” he says, “and maybe they’ll cut back, do less kilometres.” 

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