Hearing about Greyhound wanting to close up shop earlier this month brought out a lot of thoughts.
For those of us that grew up well outside the big urban areas, riding the bus to the city or to get to friends in a nearby town because you didn’t drive yet was a right of passage.
I don’t recall how many times I hopped on when I was young, whether it was heading off to visit relatives or take in some events or if I had to because of my sports life.
I distinctly — and fondly — remember taking the overnight Greyhound to Vancouver many times and being the only one sitting up front to chat with the drivers during parts of the trip.
I have a number of other great memories of bus rides past — from breathtaking trips through the Rockies to long treks, and the inevitable dreaded transfer, across the prairies to the great times spent during the many hours waiting to get on that next bus at various places such as Calgary, Medicine Hat, Kamloops, Jasper, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.
And that was all part of the experience of living in rural Alberta; it got you to where you wanted at an affordable price and usually led to finding new friends or simply a nice quiet ride.
It was also a quick way to have products sent to you within a day or so, back when courier service was reserved for those that could pay the price and wait the several days for the lone truck to make its delivery to your community and only when it had enough packages to bring.
Those days also used to be simpler times, where the majority of bus riders were friendly and would strike up conversation with someone they just met. In addition, being on the ‘milk run’ didn’t cause anyone frustration or anxiety because — well, to be honest — nearly everyone on the bus wasn’t in a hurry to get where they were going.
Okay, not unless you had a connection to make.
A lot of things have changed in the last decade, which has led up to this situation.
First of all, a lack of innovation and forethought on the company’s part has seen ridership decline steadily. The refusal to change schedules, maybe run more economical units, not making the ride more user friendly with such things as mobile Internet and simply failing to change their business model to meet a shifting landscape were all factors.
However, the rush of people moving to Alberta’s larger urban centres is one huge reason the buses have seen more empty seats. Though, the fact the company made no adjustments to this over the years definitely didn’t help their case.
According to a 2017 study by the Alberta government, the Calgary-Red Deer-Edmonton corridor holds three-quarters of the province’s population and is expected to draw even more people over the next two decades — to the point where 80 per cent of the provincial population will reside in that area.
And while places such as Grande Prairie, Whitecourt, Medicine Hat, Lethbridge, Wainwright and Lloydminster have or are seeing growth, there are small communities that are losing the population battle.
There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, young people are leaving to further their education or for work and not coming back. Whether it’s their lifestyle or other reasons, this has left some towns and villages to fold up and turn it all over to a county due to not having the tax base available to properly operate.
As well, older people are also shifting toward urban living in order to take advantage of more available services.
One other reason is the change in how transportation is being considered.
It used to be that having a vehicle was a right of passage and something that was a must. That’s not so much the case anymore, given the fact most people already live in cities with public transit as well as the high price for fuel and maintenance.
A lot of people can’t even save a few bucks and change the oil in their vehicle anymore, without risking voiding a warranty or ruining an expensive part.
So, is there a fix for those people that need rural transportation? Maybe, it might take some really innovative ideas and some enterprising people to make it work.
But that is…just an observation.