Squamish mayor hopes Greyhound closures will speed up regional alternatives

Alternative transportation companies in town hope they can fill some of the gap

While Squamish may not be as hard hit as some rural municipalities, Mayor Patricia Heintzman hopes the cancellation of Greyhound bus routes will prompt the provincial government to move quickly on regional transit.

Last year, BC Transit completed a transit study that put the price tag for a Sea to Sky transit service that would connect Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, and Pemberton at $3.3 million.

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The study recommended that the municipalities pay a little over half the cost of the program, but those numbers are unrealistic, according to Heintzman, and how the system will run is still being discussed.

The current timeline is September 2019 if discussions go well.

“Hopefully it moves [Regional Transit] up,” said Heintzman. “I think the challenge for the provincial government is it’s throughout the province, and there are areas far more isolated than Squamish that are affected by this.”

Heintzman pointed out that last week’s announcement is the latest in a long line of service cuts. In 2013, the company cut the number of Squamish buses from seven to four.

“I don’t want to downplay it. It’s definitely hard for us too, but in these rural and remote areas, these are lifelines to the communities. We have some alternatives,” she said.

Resident Ellen Hancock, who used the Greyhound bus for three years to travel to the Lower Mainland for medical appointments, said she was surprised by the announcement.

Many people in the community access services in Vancouver, including medical appointments or attending courthouse services.

“I just think there has to be some way for people to get down there. I know I can’t be the only one who used the Greyhound. Most of the time that I rode the Greyhound, it was full, and sometimes it was so full I had to wait for the next bus,” said Hancock.

Some existing companies in the Sea to Sky said they are hoping to fill the gap.

Squamish Connector currently offers a limited bus schedule aimed at commuters travelling south to Vancouver and tourists travelling north to Squamish. When the company was founded in 2014, the Passenger Transportation Board turned down a request for a more flexible license, due partly to opposition from Greyhound.

Connector owner Federico Angel said the service may be able to expand, but a lot of research is still required to make sure it’s financially feasible.

“With Greyhound leaving the province, we’re committed to staying here,” said Angel. “We need to know more what the needs of the community are.”

“We have some idea, but it’s not that easy,” added Felipe Angel, who also runs the company.

Right now the company has relied on a consistent commuter route, and any expansion would need a critical mass of travellers.

“Our main focus now that Greyhound has left is what are the needs of the community, and what are the wants in the community. Being a family business and a small company, we want to accommodate the most amount of people,” said Felipe.

Pacific Coach Lines also operates in the corridor, including a route connecting the Vancouver Airport to Squamish and Whistler.

Ridesharing company Poparide, which connects drivers with would-be passengers for carpooling, is also hoping their service will be able to serve as an alternative.

“It’s an opportunity for Poparide to pick up some of the slack, and we’re seeing that happening,” said company co-founder Luke Burden.

The online platform, launched in 2014 in Whistler, allows drivers already heading to a destination to coordinate with people who need rides. Passengers contribute towards gas and vehicle costs and save money on co-ordinating trips.

“I think a healthy transportation system has to have several options for consumers, and Poparide being a long-distance ride-sharing platform will be one of the key pieces,” said Burden.

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