Thursday, September 03, 2009

This matter has been a long running item here at Molly's Blog ie the construction of the new Greyhound Terminal way out west by Winnipeg's Airport, a far distance from the old downtown location, one that was, of course far more convenient for the average low income Greyhound customer. Well the deal was over and done in mid-August to the tune of (amounts are somewhat uncertain) about $6.3 million dollars worth of construction on the part of the Winnipeg Airport Authority (read "the taxpayer"). Greyhound Canada was to lease the facilities on a 40 year term. Using Molly's little kitty cat calculator this would have resulted in a yearly payment of about $157,500 and a monthly payment of $13,125. Leaving aside the possibility of any "interest" on this lease/loan (a very likely possibility-but the public will never know) which would increase the cost and also assuming that Greyhound has no cargo business this would leave a cost recovery of $13.13 per travel customer assuming only 1000 passengers per month. On what is still probably an underestimate of 10,000 passengers per month this equals a cost recovery of about $1.31 per customer. To say the least even the monthly figure of $13,125 would probably be in the running for the cheapest commercial real estate rate anywhere in the developed world. In actual fact to get the same square footage for an equivalent price you would probably have to go to one of the goat markets in a minor city in Outer Mongolia, and even there it would be cheap. It was a sweet deal.

But some people are just never satisfied. Today's news is that the Dog has threatened to close down all service in Manitoba and North West Ontario unless government coughs up a new $12 million subsidy for this year. Our dearly beloved federal government responded with such alacrity that one would be quite gullible to assume that they were not forewarned. What they said was that they were against the blackmail of provincial governments by Greyhound. Translated into English this says simply and plainly, "kiss my ass, I'm not paying a penny for it". This was directed much more to the provincial (and territorial as the Dog has threatened to "review" their service in Saskatchewan, Alberta, BC, the Yukon and the NWT as well, and the Dog is much more essential in the North than down here) governments than to Greyhound. The province has yet to respond, perhaps because, unlike the federal Conservatives, they only got the news via the TV or radio. Even the Winnipeg Airport Authority was slow off the mark, claiming that they were only informed this morning and that they were assured by Greyhound that the cargo aspect of the business would continue. Maybe yes and maybe no, but only "Sneaky Stevie" and major contributors to the Conservative Party (whoever "they" may be) know for sure.

Here's the bare bones story from the CBC., along with some comments that they have gathered.
Greyhound cuts rile some, alarm others:
(But nobody thinks it is a good idea-Molly )
Greyhound Canada said Thursday that unless it receives $15 million in government aid, it will shut down bus service in Manitoba and northwest Ontario over the next months, and look at closing transit lines in across the West and North.Residents of many communities across Canada rely on Greyhound for long-distance transport. (CBC)

The company says government rules force it to operate unprofitable rural routes that have put it in "dire" financial straits, but politicians called the Greyhound announcement a ploy to get taxpayer subsidies.

Greyhound operates in 700 communities across the country, in nearly every province and territory. In many of those area, the bus line is the principal provider of long-distance transportation.

Politicians, community leaders and travellers reacted with a mix of dismay and dismissal to Thursday's news. Here's what some of them had to say.
Bob Hykaway, vice-president, Amalgamated Transit Union, Calgary
Should bus service be discontinued in the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, it could have major impacts on people living there, said Bob Hykaway, a Calgary-based vice-president with the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents Greyhound Canada drivers.

"For the people up in the North — people using the [bus route] for medical runs, their drugs and things like that — this is going to stop, and that's a big impact. That's very severe for us," he said.

Hykaway said the union is talking with territorial ministers and deputy ministers on the issue.
"They're trying to get together, they're talking to the federal government to try and do something," he said.
Sam Nabi, university student, Winnipeg
"It's the cheapest option a lot of the time," Sam Nabi, a 19-year-old university student, said in Winnipeg of riding the bus. "I'm familiar with this system now that I've been using it for a while. It's usually my go-to option."

Nabi is from Whitby, Ont., and was making his way back home on Greyhound after spending the summer in Alberta.

"I am very surprised. I thought it was always there. There are signs in some of the terminals saying, 'Greyhound here for 75 years,' and I don't know what other options there would be."
Governments at all levels should do whatever they can to stop the bus line from pulling out, he said.

"It should be a priority. If the federal government needs to take ownership of Greyhound to keep it alive, then I think that's totally appropriate."
Jim Bradley, transportation minister, Ontario
"The motor coach industry in Ontario is regulated by the Highway Transportation Board under the Private Vehicles Act," Ontario Transport Minister Jim Bradley said in a perfunctory statement issued Thursday afternoon. "Under existing legislation, to discontinue service, Greyhound must comply with the requirements under the PVA.

"Greyhound has fulfilled its obligations under the PVA to provide advance notice of service discontinuance. We recognize the current economic downturn has impacted passenger volumes on many services offered by public transportation operators.

"Greyhound has advised that it is working with other companies to provide replacement services. We are hopeful that another private sector carrier will seek the opportunity to provide bus service in this corridor."
Glenn Andersen, mayor of St. Paul, Alta.
Many residents of St. Paul, Alta., a community of 5,400 people, rely on the Greyhound bus for trips to Edmonton, 200 kilometres to the southwest, Mayor Glenn Andersen said.

"A lot of people do. The ones that can't afford a vehicle, single people or somebody who just doesn't drive. They don't drive to the city, they take the Greyhound," he said Thursday. "And a lot of shipping from Greyhound through from larger centres to St. Paul. comes that way, as a more economical way of shipping, and that would be devastating to St Paul.

"Anytime you lose something, that's not good for your community and that would be a loss to not only to St Paul but the whole northeast region."
Lionel Cloutier, mayor of Ignace, Ont.
Lionel Cloutier, mayor of Ignace — a town of about 1,400 people 250 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay — said the route closures are "very distressing, very bad news for northwestern Ontario."

"A lot of people rely on the Greyhound bus for not just transportation, but also for parts and emergency stuff that we need," he said.
John Baird, federal transport minister
"Greyhound is a Texas-based multinational. Their actions are heavy-handed and clearly an attempt to bully the provinces of Manitoba and Ontario," federal Transport Minister John Baird said in a media scrum. "They're seeking tens of billions of dollars of taxpayers money as a subsidy."

Baird said the regulatory problems are a provincial issue.

"The [federal] government has been out of this for 50 years," he said. "And we've certainly got our hands full with aviation and with Via [Rail]."
Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president, Greyhound Canada
"The decision to cease our operations in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba was a very difficult one. We have repeatedly asked the federal and provincial governments to change the existing legislative and regulatory regimes that govern intercity bus operations," Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president of Greyhound Canada, said in a statement Thursday.

"Our financial situation is dire and we are no longer in a position to absorb losses that are almost solely attributable to government policies."

Kendrick said Greyhound is forced to operate unprofitable routes to remote communities and to subsidize those routes with income from profitable lines and the company's parcel delivery service.

"Despite numerous attempts over the years to adjust this business model in order to gain a profitable footing, Greyhound Canada has now run out of options," Kendrick said.
Bill Swan and Jesse House, passengers, Edmonton
In Edmonton, passenger Bill Swan said his daughter travels frequently to the city from northern Alberta.

"Greyhound is basically the only way for people to get from town to town," he said.

Jesse House, a kidney transplant patient, said he uses the bus to get to medical appointments from Grande Prairie, Alta. He pays $79 for the bus trip, but a plane ride would cost almost $500.
"The bus is the only affordable way for me to come for my medical appointments. I can't drive because of my condition.
Newcomers to this blog and even many "old timers" may be unaware of what this blog actually promotes. I've seen this blog described as various different things ie a "unionist blog", an anarcho-syndicalist blog", a "working class blog", a "platformist fellow traveller blog" amongst other things. All of these are correct as far as they go. What this blog actually is, however, is an anarchist blog in a specific tradition that is part of anarchism ie that tradition that is not revolutionist but rather sees the potential for a more free and more equal society as always present in any society and sees the opportunity to gain such things as always possible. this tradition began with Proudhon and those French unionists who took his ideas as an inspiration. Its more modern incarnations have been expressed by such people as Paul Goodman in the USA and Colin Ward in Great Britain. In an "expansive" definition of this tradition one could say that the largest anarcho-syndicalist organization in the world today, the Spanish CGT, has pretty well come over to this idea.

Look back in this blog as to "anarchism" to see what I mean or travel forward in the future in the time left to Molly. To the non-anarchist readers of this blog (the vast majority) what I hope to present is an alternative way of seeing the word "anarchism" that is not so demanding of change, but is also open to the sort of change that serves their immediate interests. Hence my own 'Utopian Essay(s) and Practical Proposal(s)' (with apologies to the original essay by Paul Goodman).

Let's begin with an obvious statement. Bus service to rural Manitoba (and Northwest Ontario) is an obvious essential public service. There are communities in rural Manitoba where 40% of the population consists of senior citizens who are often unable to afford any other transportation than the bus, and who are absolutely dependent on the bus service for the delivery of medications. We will leave aside, for the moment, (even if we shouldn't) the dependence of many sectors of the rural economy on the bus delivery of various goods. The latter is an "economic emergency". The former is a "public health emergency", and "essential services legislation" has been evoked for far less in the past across the country. If you want a "counter threat" to that of Greyhound this is it. The buses will run just as regularly under an emergency services order, with the government both paying the bus drivers and taking the fares. The buses, of course, would be deemed "essential" under such orders in council.

That is "stage one". Make a counter threat that Greyhound would have a hard time ignoring. The long term solution- get rid of the bastards. While Greyhound is hardly the only bus service operating in either Manitoba or Northwest Ontario(see THIS LINK for a list of others operating in Manitoba). What is unique about Greyhound is that they have been granted a monopoly over certain routes under the expectation that they would operate other routes for the public good. Well they obviously want to rat on this agreement, and by implication their sweetheart deal about their new terminal is also null and void. Turn that matter over to the provincial lawyers to argue the case in court for the next ten years. In the interum continue the bus service under essential services legislation. Unlike most (all ?) situations where such legislation is evoked the Greyhound union would be likely quite agreeable to such a thing. If anything there would be better public service.

OK, that's the immediate stabilization. Molly, however, is not of the opinion that a government utility is the best way to operate anything (that's why I am a "libertarian" socialist rather than a straight "socialist"), let alone a bus service. While Greyhound and the provinces argue the matter in the courts the first thing that Manitoba and Ontario should do is repeal any legislation that gives any company any monopoly over any route.
That is clearing the decks, a minimal reform. Some are of the opinion that that would be sufficient, and perhaps it would be to "get the attention" of Greyhound. Free market ideologues are of the opinion that simply removing the Dog's monopoly would be enough to stimulate enough competition on the part of "small bus companies" to replace the services that Greyhound presently provides. Maybe so, but a) you can't depend on it and b) this is a very long term solution. The more immediate solution would be to apply the $15 million dollar subsidy that Greyhound is demanding for one year as "seed money" for "municipal cooperatives" run by RMs along each present line that Greyhound runs. We are probably taking at least a year to get the agreement off various RMs along various routes. In the interum the bus service would be run under emergency legislation. Is the cooperative form the best one for the final management ? Quite frankly I hope so, and I can give the example of dozens of rural rail lines that are now being operated in western Canada under farmers' coops when the rail companies decided to abandon the lines. Is this the best model for rural bus lines where communities d9iffer greatly in size (and therefore cost and need) ? I would prefer a co-op model, but a simple municipal subscription company would be an obvious improvement over what we have today.
There it is. There is a simple and achievable way for people here in Western Canada (and Northwest Ontario) to preserve what is very much an essential service. It is a way that doesn't depend on giving more money to a corporation that has already shown its bad faith,and it also a way that would eventually lead to more local control (via RM meetings) over an essential service. All of this is within the realm of possibility without any great change in our political system. All that it requires is public will.

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