Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Greyhound Stranding Working Canadians

An unhappy company full of unhappy employees dedicated to making their customers just as unhappy.
CALGARY — Frustrated passengers pulled into Calgary on Tuesday morning after being stranded on a Greyhound bus in northern Ontario for 14 hours with no explanation of why they'd been left.
Paul Hitchin, 29, was to report for work in Calgary on Monday morning.
Everything seemed fine as he travelled from Barrie, Ont., by bus until around 3 a.m. Sunday, when the bus stopped in a parking lot in White River, Ont. — a community of about 1,000 people about 390 kilometres east of Thunder Bay.
"The bus driver said, 'Looks like bad weather. Sit tight,' and then he just left," said Hitchin.
Passengers in the packed bus found themselves waiting from 3 a.m. Sunday until around suppertime before they were moving again.
In that time, Hitchin says they had next to no word from the bus drivers or Greyhound on why they'd been abandoned, nor were they given any place to sleep or anything to eat.
"They didn't even offer us a bottle of water," Hitchin said, adding passengers had to walk half a kilometre to the nearest fast food restaurant to eat and were forced to sleep on the bus not knowing when — or if — it would get going again.
"They didn't offer us nothing. They said because it was weather related was the reason they didn't do anything," he said.
Greyhound spokeswoman Maureen Richmond said poor weather conditions shut down local roads, causing the delays, but acknowledged the situation could have been handled better.
"There was a definitely lack of communication between Greyhound employees and the passengers, and for that I very much apologize," said Richmond.
Disgruntled passengers are urged to contact Greyhound at 204-949-7341 to discuss the incident, said Richmond, who couldn't say if they would be offered any compensation for their interrupted journey.
"I realize it was extremely upsetting and caused a lot of concern and inconvenience for the passengers," she said.
Hitchin said he doesn't believe the bad weather excuse.
He said weather reports indicated the roads reopened within 45 minutes of arriving in White River — not 14 hours later.
Having been on the receiving end of some of the grim seething contempt from Greyhound employees, the wearied scorn for those who've had luggage disappear and the Victorian prison atmosphere to their stations in cities and Texas Chainsaw Massacre tone to their rural stops this story does not surprise in the least.

I've gone from a regular user of their service as a lifetime non-driver, to switching to a smaller alternative service that charges a little more but provides a lot more comfort, respect and efficiency.  The last time I used Greyhound, to a location the other company didn't serve, the bus broke down in one direction and was oversold in the other which meant an hours long wait for them to rent a tour bus and get it to the station. 

The deeper, more important element of the story is that Greyhound Canada is essentially the only travel option for a lot of Canadians across the country, primarily though not solely for rural and lower income Canadians and this and past incidents have shown that the ongoing decay of Greyhound service disproportionately affects First Nations Canadians.  The company has used this monopoly to let service quality slide and labour relations become toxic, and they've used it to stick up governments like Manitoba for huge subsidies on threat of withdrawing mobility to huge swathes of the population.

October 28, 2009 - A short-term deal between Greyhound Canada and the Manitoba government has been reached that will keep buses running along rural routes in the province and northwestern Ontario.But a future reduction in service is likely, Ron Lemieux, the Manitoba infrastructure and transportation minister, said Wednesday.
 In a release, Lemieux said the bus company and the province met Tuesday and agreed to continue working on the development of short-term "options" to maintain service. Specific details were not provided.
Greyhound had recently decided not sell any tickets past Nov. 2 along rural routes, which it said are unprofitable. Lemieux said the company has agreed to quash that deadline as a "gesture of good faith."
Greyhound said Sept. 3 that unless it received $15 million in government aid, it would cease passenger service in the region.
Federal Transport Minister John Baird has accused the company of trying to bully the provinces by announcing service cuts, and said the company was being "heavy-handed" in an effort to get subsidies.
They probably even have a case that those routes are unprofitable.  Not necessarily for lack of customers as much as fuel costs over vast distances.  Not a cost likely to decrease over time.

We live in a vast country with an insufficient and inequitable transportation infrastructure.  Governments cannot allow ongoing decay or massive withdrawal of critical infrastructure services with hugely deleterious effects on the economy and the social contract.   But none of these facts lead to governments ponying up massive subsidies for vast private corporations whenever they want to stick them up as the best and most economical approach to the problem.

We've made the decision as a society that certain essential services should be publicly owned and administered.  One of the big advantages of publicly owned essential industries is that they can lose money if necessary.   It's not a bug, its a feature.

The ability to travel in a country as large in Canada, to follow the jobs, or be with family or escape disasters should be considered  a critical national priority and an essential human right.


Dr.Dawg said...

Having been on the receiving end of some of the grim seething contempt from Greyhound employees, the wearied scorn for those who've had luggage disappear and the Victorian prison atmosphere to their stations in cities and Texas Chainsaw massacre tone to their rural stops this story does not surprise in the least.

Priceless! And a good article, btw. I simply hate bus travel. Yet it needn't be so bad.

Hugh Graham said...

Hopefully this will be a tipping point. I have had to use this crap system before, but never again. Greyhound is a parasitical company and reform is needed.

Cliff said...

It goes against my grain to use a non-union bus company when there's a unionized alternative, but the quality difference is just too big to ignore - the trouble is that little regional players like Red Arrow can't step up and service the rural routes that need to be kept open.

They generally only run a few big routes between cities and simply couldn't expand enough to even challenge Greyhound's de facto monopoly.

Bus travel in Canada is the textbook example of market failure.

Brett said...

STC (Saskatchewan Transportation Company), initiated during the illustrious tenure of Premier Tommy Douglas, is a wonderful example of a publically-owned bus liner that services all of Saskatchewan, particularly the unprofitable routes. Manitoba could have created its own Crown Corp. and said to hell with Greyhound.

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