Thursday, 3 September 2009

Greyhound Being Put Down or Just Playing Dead? Update 2


Greyhound has given 30 day notice that it will cease operations in Manitoba and NW Ontario and is reviewing other provinces as well.

The news is still fresh, and nothing is yet posted on their own site, so there's not a lot of detail but I am assuming that they are talking about intra-province traffic as they've been complaining for years, through their subsidiary Grey Goose, about the unprofitably of many small town routes and already made a round of schedule cuts in 2005 - the deeper cuts that they were seeking were ixnayed by the Manitoba Motor Transport Board.

So is this dog dead or just trying to get the attention of politicians ?

In Manitoba there are no real options when it comes to intra-provincial traffic. We don't have a crown bus service like STC in Saskatchewan or Ontario Northland. (Grey Goose was separate in name only since the 60's and this year the brand was supposedly to disappear under the Greyhound banner, anyway).

The fact that the news is not on the Greyhound website and that they reportedly "blame Ottawa" for what has happened makes me smell a political ploy.

The small routes around the Prairies and NW Ontario are an endagered species. Do we need to look at creating an alternative such as STC or outright subsidize an international company like Greyhound, or a local one like Beaver (Manitoba's largest bus company), to provide this service ? STC, for instance, costs about $8m per year to run and has a fleet of 45 coaches to cover their province. One source told me that Manitoba could get away with a lot fewer coaches than that.

Whatever option Manitoba chooses it will have to act fast as the clock is ticking on October 3 - the date that the 30 day notice period ends.

- Intercity Bus Service in Canada Parl. Cmte. on Transport Report
- A History of Intercity Buses in Manitoba

- Baird: Greyhound "bullying " Provinces for Cash
"They're seeking tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers money as a subsidy. That's why they're targeting Manitoba and Ontario."

A few more update notes:
- In 2007 FirstGroup of Scotland purchased Greyhound from Laidlaw. Just last week they introduced the Greehound brand to the UK in a big way.

- Someone who knows the bus industry well told me that they're not that surprised that FirstGroup, now with an even stronger presence in many of the world's largest markets, would have been be scratching their heads at why they're running a Gillam to Winnipeg route that loses money. He imagines that they will concentrate on the Montréal / Ottawa / Toronto corridors and some areas in B.C. and give up the small local routes all together.Perhaps it's a political game for cash but if they don't get it, they'd be just as happy to walk away.

- Also see Wolfram


The View from Seven said...

I'm sure the aggressive way they're going about this is meant to serve as a negotiating tactic, but I'm not surprised that Greyhound is in financial trouble.

Even before the Tim McLean murder, Greyhound suffered from a "cheap and nasty" reputation as the lower cost of flying cut deep into their middle-class customer base, leaving them dependent on a marginal customer base.

I'm not so sure if it's worthwhile to set up a crown corporation to take over Greyhound's routes. More palatable options could include:

a.) Making it easier to launch new shuttle services connecting Winnipeg downtown/airport to Brandon, Portage, Gimli-Winnipeg Beach, Steinbach, Morden-Winkler-Altona and Kenora.

(For example, the huge bus that goes only once a day to Morden could be replaced by a small shuttle bus that would run Winnipeg Airport-Downtown-Morden-Winkler-Altona-Winnipeg Downtown-Airport three times a day.)

b.) Giving municipal governments the support needed to set up their own shuttle services, if they wish to do so.

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