VANCOUVER — Greyhound Canada has applied to regulators in British Columbia to drop five routes, four of them in northern B.C., as the company deals with plunging ridership.
Greyhound calls the decision "regrettably unavoidable" but said there has been a 51 per cent drop in riders since 2010, along with higher costs and increased competition from publicly subsidized services.
Routes that would be eliminated include a 718-kilometre run along Highway 16, the so-called Highway of Tears, between Prince George and Prince Rupert.
After dozens of murders and disappearances of women along that highway, the province, local governments and BC Transit launched a subsidized route in June connecting Burns Lake, Prince George and Smithers, mirroring portions of the Greyhound route.
The company has also applied to drop its routes from Prince George to Valemount, Prince George to Dawson Creek, Dawson Creek to Whitehorse and Victoria to Nanaimo.
Stuart Kendrick, senior vice-president at Greyhound, said the application was filed with the Passenger Transportation Board earlier this month and the process normally takes about 90 days but could be longer because of the proposal to cut five routes.
"We can't continue to operate these routes at a loss," he said, adding Greyhound can't compete with subsidized BC Transit.
"We've communicated to the provincial government for several years that this is eroding our business. It does create an unfair playing field and when you have subsidized transit they're able to offer fares that are much lower than ours," Kendrick said.
"Connectivity from northern B.C. into the main corridors is really what the customer needs and right now it's not a viable option for a private carrier."
Greyhound is continuing its discussions with provincial and federal officials regarding viable options for transportation in rural areas, Kendrick said.
Terry Teegee, tribal chief of the Prince George-based Carrier Sekani First Nation, said other private companies also would be unlikely make a profit for the same reasons but rural residents need reliable transportation between communities that are geographically spread out.
He said existing subsidized services would have to be expanded or new ones would be needed to take over so people in northern B.C. have options that are readily available elsewhere in the province.
"Why aren't we a priority?" he asked. "There's no reason why there couldn't be a transit system up here as well that could (provide) service like in Vancouver, or any other place."
First Nations leaders, mayors and advocates pushed the province for a decade to fund transportation along Highway 16.
The B.C. government finally came up with a transportation plan last year, but only after a 2012 report from a missing women inquiry that had commissioner Wally Oppal recommending bus service along the corridor where people often hitchhike to get around.
Service is being rolled out separately in various communities and started in January with a 30-minute, six-days-a-week shuttle along a small section of the highway, from Moricetown and Smithers.
The Passenger Transportation Board could call public consultations as part of its decision process on Greyhound's application.
Camille Bains and Beth Leighton, The Canadian Press
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said the passenger transportation branch would decide whether to eliminate the routes.