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Greyhound applies to regulators to axe northern B.C. bus routes including Highway of Tears amid plunging ridership

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Highway 16 near Prince George, B.C. is shown on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 where subsidized bus service was introduced to reduce hitchhiking along the route where a number of Indigenous women have gone missing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

Highway 16 near Prince George, B.C. is shown on Monday, Oct. 8, 2012 where subsidized bus service was introduced to reduce hitchhiking along the route where a number of Indigenous women have gone missing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

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” in a news release but says there has been a 51% 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.

A company spokeswoman says the application has just been filed with the B.C.’s passenger transportation branch and no changes will happen this year.

The branch could order full public consultations as part of its decision process.

Senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick of Greyhound Canada says if the cuts are approved, they will be difficult for communities and the company regrets the application.

“The situation has come to a head, however, and despite a long-standing series of corrective measures and discussions with regulatory officials, the reality is that we can no longer operate the unsustainable routes, and we are proposing changes that will make other B.C. routes more viable,” Kendrick says in the release.

The company is continuing its discussions with provincial and federal officials regarding viable options for transportation in rural areas, Kendrick says.

First Nations leaders and mayors previously pushed the government to fund transportation along Highway 16.

The B.C. government finally came up with a transportation plan last year, but only after a decade of advocacy and 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.