Greyhound fingers ridesharing as a factor in its demise in Western Canada
Ridesharing hasn’t just emerged as a threat to the taxi industry.
If you ask Greyhound, it’s also one of a host of factors that have contributed to its decision to shut down intercity bus service in Western Canada.
WATCH: Fallout from Greyhound withdrawing service from Western Canada
The bus company said as much on July 9, when it announced that it would end all passenger and freight services in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, maintaining only a route between Vancouver and Seattle — which will be operated by its U.S. parent.
In an interview with Global News that day, Peter Hamel, Greyhound’s regional vice-president for Western Canada, said ride-sharing has emerged as a competitor for Greyhound.
“There are numerous ridesharing companies that have popped up,” he said.
“The Craigslist rideshare, the Kijiji rideshare, where today you could probably find almost 1,000 rides offered or wanted on those types of routes.”
Greyhound’s concerns about ridesharing were also reflected in a 2017 application for a route reduction in B.C. — and the issues relayed in that application reflect a “mirror image” of the company’s struggles in other provinces, Hamel told Global News.
In that application, which was approved, Greyhound made a case to reduce or eliminate a number of routes around the province, including from Dawson Creek to Fort Nelson, from Prince George to Prince Rupert, and from Victoria to Nanaimo.
The application painted a picture of a company that wasn’t just losing passengers; it was also making less and less money when it came to passenger revenue per mile.
Passenger revenue per mile on its route between Victoria and Nanaimo was $3.60 in 2017, as the total passenger count fell to 85,323. By contrast, Greyhound pulled in $5.87 in passenger revenue per mile on that route in 2013, while 131,777 people made the trip.
A route between Prince George and Dawson Creek also saw a steep decline. Passenger revenue per mile was $2.12 in 2017, down from $3.74. The total passenger count dropped to 9,993 from 20,827 in the same time frame.
This chart shows how Greyhound Canada’s passenger revenue per mile declined on numerous routes in B.C. between 2013 and 2017:
And that’s just a small picture of its overall ridership declines.
During 2017, Greyhound carried just under 854,000 passengers in B.C. That number fell from the 1.2 million passengers carried in 2013.
Steep declines were seen in other provinces, Hamel said.
Saskatchewan, for example, has seen a 55 per cent decline since 2010, while Manitoba is down 57 per cent in the same time frame.
What were the reasons for these declines? For one, rural populations are falling.
“Only about 15 per cent of the people live in rural communities, and that number’s on a decline,” Hamel told Global News.
Also contributing to the losses are ultra-low-cost air carriers, such as Flair Airlines and Swoop, which are only going into operation now.
But a bigger contributor is likely the “erosion of passenger volumes on productive routes by unregulated commercial rideshare operations and other subsidized or non-regulated carriers,” as outlined in the case for route reduction.
The company mentioned two services in particular that it said were affecting service in B.C.
Launched in 2001, Kootenay Rideshare offers service between communities such as Nelson, Castlegar, Trail and Grand Forks — by offering rides, people can reduce the environmental impacts from driving, David Reid, chair of Sustainable Kootenays, told Global News.
The service has drivers offer seats in their cars for a fee when making trips between Kootenay communities and elsewhere. A trip between Nelson and Vancouver, for example, might cost a passenger $45, but that fee can be negotiated.
Speaking to Global News, Hamel said Kootenay Rideshare had “68 rides that are offered and 147 needed” between July 12 and Sept. 24.
“This is an impact,” he said.
The application also mentioned HitchPlanet, now known as Poparide, which provides ridesharing between cities such as Vancouver, Squamish, Whistler, Kelowna and Revelstoke.
Similar to Kootenay Rideshare, Poparide, which operates under carpooling rules established in B.C.’s Passenger Transportation Act, allows drivers to post trips they’re making online and sell the empty seats in their cars.
Say you need a ride from Vancouver to Whistler, the ski resort that’s about a 90-minute drive north of the city’s downtown.
You go on Poparide, search for someone who’s posted a trip between those destinations, and then you book a seat for as little as $12.
That’s less than it costs to travel the same route on Greyhound — the lowest price offered on July 14 was a web-only fare of $19. Refundable fees are as high as $33.50.
And the trips are longer, too, as long as two-and-a-half hours at certain times of the day.
“If you’re taking a look at Poparide today alone, we’re under attack on all the significant routes that we were predominantly in,” Hamel said.
Greyhound has been affected by ridesharing on almost any route, but he singled out routes related to Vancouver, where Poparide has 1,410 trips connected to the city in any direction, he said.
The Whistler route is just one of them.
“It’s a market where the people that are using that are very sophisticated on the online apps,” Hamel said.
“It’s something that they want and this is something that they use.”
WATCH: What do Greyhound cancellations mean for British Columbians?
Rideshare operators resist the idea that they’ve played a significant role in Greyhound’s decline.
In an email, Poparide co-founder and chief technology officer Luke Burden said its ridership numbers are “still relatively small” on many of the regional routes that Greyhound is abandoning.
“For this reason, we doubt that we alone have had as significant an impact as Greyhound would suggest,” he said.
Burden did say, however, that Poparide has been directly competing with Greyhound on certain routes, though he said there’s also other, smaller bus companies that are “successfully operating” on those corridors.
“There is clearly room for a range of transport options to thrive on some of these routes,” he said.
When Greyhound announced its closure in Western Canada, Poparide issued a news release saying there’s “huge potential to innovate on how people get from A to B.”
Speaking to Global News, Burden said ridesharing of the type that Poparide does has already been happening in Europe, “where people have embraced ridesharing alongside buses and trains as a primary mode of transportation.”
“It is typically cheaper and faster, but there is also the social benefit of making connections with new people on your ride,” he said.
Asked how much Kootenay Rideshare has been a competitor for Greyhound, Reid said, “if Greyhound has struggled with empty bus seats, maybe they aren’t offering what riders need at the times they need it.”
One advantage of ridesharing, he said, is that “the more people use it, the more rides there are available.”
He, too, cited its community-building potential — that people can form friendships on a ride, and stops are only made by mutual agreement.
Kootenay Rideshare is expanding, too, and looking for more communities to join its network.
Already, drivers using Kootenay Rideshare offer trips as far as Vancouver; they also have trips to Edmonton, Spokane and the Cowichan Valley.
“The more people use the service, the more rides will be available and the more likely people are to find a ride or a passenger that fits their needs,” Reid said.
Voices have emerged in an attempt to save Greyhound service in Western Canada.
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has called on the federal government to come up with a funding plan to keep Greyhound from shutting down there.
But if you ask Hamel, that’s not why Greyhound announced its closure.
“This is not a conversation where this is an idle threat, where we hope that somebody is going to be stepping in here at the last moment,” he said.
The federal government, Hamel noted, has made clear that it has deferred the issue to the provinces — and individual provinces haven’t shown a willingness to subsidize such a service.
Alternatives have emerged, however.
Late in May, the provincial government announced BC Bus North, a service that emerged to fill the gap that Greyhound left in the north.
And Kasper Transportation, a bus company that operates in Manitoba and Ontario, is looking to expand to Saskatchewan.
The service won’t be the same. But Greyhound can’t continue to sustain the losses it’s seen in Western Canada, or anywhere else.
“There is no route that is profitable here in Canada right now,” Hamel said.
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