A new poll suggests the majority of Canadians are in favour of the federal government funding a rural bus service.
The Angus Reid Institute study was conducted after Greyhound Canada announced it is shutting down passenger and delivery services on the Prairies, northwestern Ontario and all but one cross-border route in British Columbia.
Sixty per cent of those who participated in the poll said they would support a rural bus service funded by the federal government, and 64 per cent said they would be in favour of a provincially funded service.
LISTEN: Canadians favour government intervention on Greyhound
The study also asked Canadians which of two statements was closest to their point of view: “government should step in to maintain rural and northern bus services, they are vital to communities,” or: “It should not be up to government to maintain these services, private businesses can fill the gaps if there is enough demand.” Fifty-six per cent of respondents voted in favour of the first statement, while 44 per cent selected the second, according to Angus Reid.
“Even if I don’t support this, it’s encouraging that people say those kinds of things,” MacEwan University bachelor of commerce associate professor Michael Roberts said.
“They say, ‘No, no, no, we can’t have people who can’t get places. That’s not right that people live in communities and now they can’t get anywhere.'”
Despite the results of the study, the poll also suggested only five per cent who of the people who participated expect to be personally affected by Greyhound’s decision. The study also suggested 40 per cent of Canadians hope governments don’t have to fund the service.
Last week, Canadian premiers agreed Greyhound’s decision required a national response. The premiers called on the federal government to work with Greyhound to temporarily maintain services in Western Canada so affected communities have time to come up with alternatives.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he had directed Transport Minister Marc Garneau to work with provinces, communities, and Greyhound to see “what paths forward there are.”
Premier Rachel Notley said new routes will be set up between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, as well as in Red Deer County.
That’s on top of existing pilot projects in and around Camrose, Grande Prairie and Spirit River.
Roberts said if the federal government provides financial assistance for the rural bus routes, it shouldn’t be considered a bailout in the same way the government bailed out General Motors in 2009.
“What we’re talking about here is not a bailout of an industry that didn’t do a very good job; rather, we’re talking about a public service, and we’re converting this business model into a public service,” Roberts said.
Roberts said if public transportation on rural bus routes is considered an essential service then government backing should be expected.
“As a society, do we want to ensure that people have basic access to transportation? Then it becomes a policy issue. And if we say ‘yes,’ then some money has to go towards it.”
The Angus Reid Institute conducted the online survey from July 18 to 23, among a random sample of 1,500 adults who are members of its forum. A probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.