On Monday July 9th, Greyhound announced that in October of this year, they will be shutting down all routes in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, with the exception of one last route in BC going from Vancouver to Seattle. Ontario bus routes will also be canceled west of Sudbury. The reason given for this is Greyhound’s unstable financial foothold in Western Canada since 2004. Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president of Greyhound Canada, put it point blank, “The company has experienced significant losses despite continued efforts to return to viability. In the affected regions, the company has run an operating deficit since 2004.” These cuts have been causing a great deal of concern for the safety and wellbeing of Northwestern rural communities in general, as many people rely on these buses to reach urban areas.
Overall, Greyhound pulled in some $73 million of profit in 2014. This makes Greyhound the largest and most profitable bus company in North America. However, many of its operations servicing rural areas in Canada are not profitable. The situation is especially serious in BC where Greyhound ran a loss of $12.9 million in 2017. Describing the problem, Kendrick said that, “… the issue that we have seen is the routes in rural parts of Canada — specifically Western Canada — are just not sustainable anymore.” Of course, by “sustainable” he means “profitable”. The company’s recent failings are blamed on an approximate 41% decrease in riders since 2010, and increased government regulations.
In all, roughly two million passengers will be impacted. Those most severely affected by this loss of service are the most vulnerable in our society. The working class, the elderly, and the sick will face greater obstacles as access to cities and basic health services will become more infrequent and expensive. Workers who rely on buses will also be denied opportunities to find employment outside their communities, furthering their isolation. The Northern Health Authority has been increasing the Northern Health Connections transportation service since the announcement of these cuts, but this will not be enough. From the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Grand Chief Arlen Dumas commented to Global News, “It is already well documented that our citizens have to ride the bus for hours, some longer than 14 hours, in order to see a doctor. How will they get access to adequate health care now?”
Among those voicing their concerns, there has been a strong outcry from indigenous rural communities in Western Canada. Many First Nations communities are far from urban areas and lack vital resources. This makes bus transportation crucial for the safety and wellbeing of their inhabitants. Grand Chief Doug Kelly, the chair of the First Nations Health Council in B.C., said in regards to people resorting to hitchhiking, “If they’re hitchhiking, they’re vulnerable; they’re vulnerable to violence, they’re vulnerable to murder.” Kelly’s fear of unsafe transportation is not unfounded. More than 40 people, mostly young women, have gone missing on Highway 16 in BC. Highway 16 has since been nicknamed the “Highway of Tears” by locals. This is among the routes that will be cancelled by Greyhound, leaving those who rely on the service high and dry. The Native Women’s Association of Canada also released a declaration which stated “By virtue of this significant access barrier, it will exacerbate the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.” This is all obviously true. Ride-sharing and hitchhiking are often the only other options left to those without access to a vehicle in these areas. It was the only option for Caitlin Potts, who went missing in February 2016 after finding a ride to Calgary on the Internet. Caitlin has not been found, and her disappearance remains a haunting reminder to these communities of the dangers of travelling without reliable transport.
The cancellation of these bus routes will also mean that hundreds of unionized jobs will be lost. Greyhound estimates that they will lay off 415 unionized workers in late October. Greyhound workers are upset and disappointed about these unexpected layoffs. Mike McLellan, a Greyhound bus driver of 19 years and sub-local chairperson of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 374, said in an interview, “They just made a bunch of cuts to save a bunch of money, and we didn’t even get one quarter into that and they’re announcing that they’re shutting everything down. It was certainly surprising, and it was disappointing.”
In response to this situation, the ATU has united with Greyhound in calling for the government to subsidize the multibillion dollar company. Federal NDP leader, Jagmeet Singh echoed this call, launching a petition calling on Trudeau to “act to develop a federal funding plan.” But is giving large amounts of public dollars to a private company really the solution here?
By all accounts, these cutbacks show the incapacity of the private sector to reliably address the needs of rural communities. As mentioned previously, Greyhound is a hugely profitable company. The vast majority of its bus routes throughout North America are in the black. But capitalism demands profit from every sphere in society, from healthcare to education to transportation. Similarly, the CEO of Canada Post was using the same logic with Canada Post, eliminating door-to-door service because of the increased costs of delivering to rural communities when the company in general posts a huge profit every year.
The actions taken by stone-hearted Greyhound executives to cut costs will no doubt cause even more avoidable death and poverty in rural Western communities. People will literally die and Greyhound is fully aware of this. At the end of the day, the demands of the blind profits of the capitalists is more important than any human suffering.
The “funding plan” proposed by the NDP leadership is tantamount to a corporate bailout and a public-private-partnership. Or in other words, public funding – private profits. Mike Palecek, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, criticized the NDP’s position stating: “Why is the federal NDP calling for subsidies for Greyhound? Clearly the private sector is not capable of running this industry. I thought the NDP was turning back towards Socialism. So why are they calling for corporate-welfare?” We can see the effects of the corporate bailouts following the 2008 financial crash, which simply turned the problem of private corporate indebtedness into one of public indebtedness, and workers and youth are now being made to foot the bill.
To secure the wellbeing of rural communities and guarantee good unionized jobs for transport workers, we cannot rely on the Greyhound executives and hand them large sums of money, hoping they will do what is best for the workers and the community. The logic of private enterprise and the market means that they cannot possibly serve rural communities. For them, profit comes first.
The leadership of the NDP wants to subsidize Greyhound, but this will only put a band-aid on a gangrenous wound and would syphon public money into private coffers. If the profit motive cannot run this essential service, vital to the life and health of rural and northern communities, then it must be nationalized. Instead of leaving this up to the anarchy of the market, we could finally develop a rational plan for transportation, taking into consideration all of the needs of various communities to guarantee accessibility and safety. Some rural routes will probably never be profitable. But that’s not the point. With nationalization of the transport industry, we could develop a rational socialist plan for transportation to make sure that everyone gets the services they need and the workers would have good pay and conditions. The NDP, the ATU and the rest of the labour movement must mobilize for the nationalization of the entire transportation industry under democratic control of the workers and society at large. This is the only way to truly protect jobs and services. The working class has a direct interest in making transportation accessible to all communities, regardless of profits. But only through these measures can profits be taken out of the equation, leaving the working class able to plan responsibly and place at the forefront society’s needs.