The quality of life of rural-dwelling British Columbians is being thrown under the bus. If we are not careful, it will be done without a plan for the future. We can only hope that our provincial and federal politicians are finally paying attention.
We, as a collective, have been asking for a national transit strategy that includes inter-city bus transportation for many years now, but this plea has continued to fall on deaf ears. Inter-city bus transportation is the transit of the rural community. Without it, rural citizens have limited access to out-of-town services. Years of provincial cuts mean that many have no choice but to travel for medical appointments and other vital services. The government, both provincially and federally, has a duty to ensure affordable and reliable ways to carry out this essential travel.
Canada, as a whole, does not provide for an alternative to bus travel -- either by air or by rail -- that most people can afford on a regular basis. Many small communities such as Lytton, Dawson Creek or Princeton are due to be adversely affected by Greyhound's service withdrawal. The inter-city bus industry has been all but deregulated -- thanks in part to the federal government downloading responsibility for regulation to the provinces. The provinces are no longer willing to face the challenge and expense of providing safe, clean and reliable transportation to their own rural constituents. At worst, this constitutes serious neglect of rural needs.
Greyhound readily admits in its most recent application to the B.C. Passenger Transportation Board that the proposed route reductions and eliminations will deprive remote communities of vital service. While bemoaning their lack of revenue, Greyhound has failed to mention that their own changes of the past few years (i.e. running scheduled coaches at times inconvenient to the travelling public, eliminating route stops/agencies in smaller communities) have caused some, if not most, of the results we see today. Any funding provided to a private company such as Greyhound must come with some form of reciprocation to the province and the citizens of British Columbia, such as dedicated fleet, daily runs and mandatory service to smaller communities. If Greyhound's application is approved in its current form, by spring, communities and local small businesses unable to offer a promise of big profits for certified curbside providers and private bus lines will bear the brunt of the impacts.
Further isolation also makes a bad situation worse when it comes to rural health care. We are all aware that the presence of health-care providers is the lowest per capita when communities become more isolated from urban centres. Federal census data shows that those in isolated communities have about half the health-care providers available to them compared to urban patients. Combined, these two facts alone leave little doubt that a lack of inter-city bus service is more than a trivial issue.
Added to this, the lack of inter-city bus service puts an unfair financial burden on ordinary people. This leaves rural British Columbians in an increasingly precarious position that cannot be ignored. Factor in safety and the situation becomes more alarming, especially given what has transpired along the Highway of Tears. We are now in danger of replicating this travesty along the Fraser Canyon, before the situation in the north of B.C. has been adequately resolved. Safe and regularly scheduled transportation is a necessity in the small communities dotting British Columbia and every other province in Canada. It is essential for the safety and well-being of all our residents.
It should also be the government's concern to ensure that the most dangerous roads in this province are not left to private operators motivated solely by profit in a piecemeal system. The guarantee of regulated provincial bus service upholds the government's obligation to provide vital and essential links to all British Columbians. These links allow for fair and affordable access to services which have already been wiped out locally, services which urban British Columbians may take for granted. Rural families should not have to expect less from their own government because they do not live in a big city.
Amanda West is a former Coach Operator from British Columbia. She is the current Financial Secretary Treasurer of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1374.
Photo: Stephen Rees/flickr
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