Alberta bus company seeks government help as European carrier launches in Alberta

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Alberta bus company seeks government help; European carrier launches in Alberta
WATCH: New bus service between Alberta cities started on Friday with the arrival of Europe’s largest intercity bus carrier. But as Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports, a local company warns that without government support, less profitable routes in rural Alberta may come to an end – Apr 5, 2024

People looking for different options to get around Alberta without a personal vehicle now have a new choice.

FlixBus started operating in Alberta on Friday, with the first bus arriving in Calgary Friday morning at Southcentre Mall.

“It was comfortable and cheap,” said Wahab Al-Hafidh, who arrived in Calgary from Edmonton.

“I thought: I might as well go see Calgary. I’ve never been to the city. I don’t have a car so it’s convenient to go from my home to take the bus,” Al-Hafidh said.

Riders will be able to travel to and from Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Red Deer, Fort Macleod, Okotoks-Aldersyde and Claresholm.

FlixBus will offer four daily routes between Edmonton and Calgary and two daily schedules between Lethbridge and Calgary.

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Click to play video: 'High fuel prices in Alberta forcing reduction in inter-city bus service and increase in ticket prices'
High fuel prices in Alberta forcing reduction in inter-city bus service and increase in ticket prices

The company’s model is to partner with local bus companies that own the coaches and hire drivers.  Most of its operations are digital, keeping infrastructure costs down.

“We had great success in Ontario and we were excited to jump at the chance to move to Alberta based on our success in Ontario and the need in Alberta,” said Jonas Pearce, government affairs associate with FlixBus.

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“We work with local operators who know the markets and the roads better than we do, so they operate all the trips and we are able to give them a platform,” Pearce said.

Click to play video: 'Greyhound leaves Canadian market after almost a century'
Greyhound leaves Canadian market after almost a century

Greyhound Canada ended services in Western Canada in 2018. FlixBus acquired Greyhound in 2021.

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Since then, several domestic carriers have entered the market like EBus, Red Arrow and Cold Shot.

Cold Shot offers Calgary to Edmonton rides but also makes less profitable runs to Peace River, Cold Lake and Fort St. John.

“I’ll be honest with you, unless the government pitches in, rural communities will not be connected to main cities,” said Sunny Balwaria, the owner and president of Cold Shot from his office in Edmonton.

Cold Shot has been in business for 18 years, doing freight and started with passengers in 2013. The company also delivers smaller packages.

Since the pandemic started, Balwaria had made the difficult decision to scale back Cold Shot from 11 to six routes now.

Balwaria said the northern Alberta routes usually run about 50 per cent full and that he, along with other competitors, have been asking the province for help.

Click to play video: 'Alberta inter-city bus companies seek provincial aid amid fears of business exodus'
Alberta inter-city bus companies seek provincial aid amid fears of business exodus

“Provincially we are still working and sending letters, trying to get somebody to notice that this public service is important to connect rural Alberta. The reply back that I get is being told to get more loans,” Balwaria said.

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“I have to feed my family. This is the only bread and butter I have. I cut down to the bare bones and I’m still hanging in there,” Balwaria said.

Devin Dreeshan, Alberta Transportation & Economic Corridors minister, was not available for an interview on Friday.

In a statement, a spokesperson Alberta Transportation & Economic Corridors said: “The private sector is in the best position to meet rural bus needs based on ridership demand.”

FlixBus, which is based in Germany, is also in Ontario and B.C. and plans on having service between Alberta and B.C. by next year.

The company is Europe’s largest intercity bus provider and offers services throughout the U.S., South America and India.

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