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Ontario Does Not See Public Transit as a Critical Infrastructure

By: Sandra Biskupovic 

The recent announcement from Greyhound Canada to permanently shutdown all bus routes across the country comes as a big shock for those who willingly, and unwillingly, opt for public transit options when moving between regions in the country.

As a university student in Ontario without a car and with a partner and many friends living in downtown Toronto, the Greyhound bus was usually my quickest and most affordable option to getting between Waterloo and Toronto. It took close to two hours and would cost me $15 one way (student discount).

Several users voiced their rage on Twitter as it was made apparent that Greyhound was unfortunately the best option for many others when deciding to travel to other cities around them. The intercity travel situation in the province is so bad that many students take to Facebook on “rideshare program” pages to post to either ask for or offer car rides between cities. For many, this is a more convenient and cheaper option than opting for public transit. 

This recent announcement brings to light a much more unfortunate reality: Ontario does not see reliable, affordable and convenient public transportation as a critical infrastructure. Why else would we hand off such an essential service to citizens to a private company? It is nearly impossible to hold a private company accountable to provide adequate service. If you are not already aware, after the federal government transferred the responsibility of intercity buses to the provincial government, the provinces quickly granted Greyhound a monopoly on the most profitable routes (such as Toronto-Ottawa) with the objective that the profits could act as subsidies for less profitable routes and would ensure reliable bus services across the province. This decision had the opposite impact with bus schedules that are few and far between, frequently delayed buses, and increasing fares. With little opposition to this decision, the provincial government has made little movement to update this regulation and almost entirely deregulated the industry last fall.

With the population of Ontario set to grow by nearly 200,000 people each year, our current highways are not capable of sustaining that number of single-occupant cars per year. There is a dire need to invest into alternative transportation options outside the traditional expansion of highways, which research has demonstrated only increases traffic. The Ontario 401 highway is already too busy and we cannot afford it getting worse. 

Greyhound buses are the only intercity transit option in many Northern and rural communities (besides driving or taking a Porter flight) leaving a large gap in transportation options for a large population of the province. Many of the users of their service included the First Nation communities, women, seniors and other marginalized populations. The most vulnerable populations suffer when the responsibility to provide critical services is transferred to the hands of the private sector. 

The provincial government needs to establish reliable, affordable and convenient public transportation as critical infrastructure so they can invest resources and establish policies accordingly. We have a very clear case study in Ontario that private companies are not capable of providing the adequate service required for optimal intercity public transit. The most recent Highway 401 expansion project cost taxpayers $640 million. Why couldn’t these dollars be invested into the existing Go Buses to expand service, subsidize fares, and connect more cities across the province? There are several case studies for successful intercity transit and an endless list of rationale for investing publicly funded intercity travel, notably, the impact that the reduction of single-occupant vehicle usage can have on emissions, individual health, traffic congestion and consumer savings (cars, driver’s insurance, maintenance, gas and parking is expensive!).

The end of intercity bus service by Greyhound is a pivotal moment in Canada as it brings to the light the failure of historic policymaking and the consequences of relying on private sector actors to provide an essential service to people. Perhaps our provincial and federal governments will learn from their mistakes and finally establish their role in providing reliable, affordable and convenient intercity public transit. 

Feature image: Wikipedia

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