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Bus service at crossroads

It was less than a year ago when Greyhound Canada announced drastically reduced service for the Central Alberta corridor.

It was less than a year ago when Greyhound Canada announced drastically reduced service for the Central Alberta corridor.

The company's plan to cut service to once a day for communities like Olds and Innisfail came as a shock for many residents but was defended by the company as necessary due to changing economic and ridership conditions. Greyhound's position was further influenced by Alberta Transportation's decision 15 months ago to open up inter-city bus service to other companies besides Greyhound, forcing the bus line to abandon 12 corridors and cut service in others.

The company insisted these moves were necessary because demand was not sufficient to maintain traditional levels of service.

Olds is a college town where scores, perhaps even hundreds, of students periodically rely on bus service to go home on weekends and holidays. There are also many citizens who depend on bus service to get to larger urban centres for important social and medical appointments. Users in Olds and Innisfail are now forced to not only accept reduced service, but its delivery comes at the most inconvenient witching hour times – in the early morning hours between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m.

This week we learn of the plight of 50-year-old Bill Phillips, a citizen of Innisfail, who was waiting for a bus in the early morning hours of Aug. 27. A recent amputee as a result of a May car accident, Phillips was waiting outside the town's Century Theatre for the 3:55 a.m. Greyhound bus to take him to Calgary's Foothills Medical Centre for an important surgical appointment to relieve pain in his shoulder.

He said the bus never came. Innisfail's downtown is going through major reconstruction and buses are making their way to local pickups through a back alley.

Phillips, who says he was with three other people waiting for the bus, said he waited until 5:15 a.m. A Greyhound spokesperson admitted the bus was 45 minutes late but could not give an explanation as to what transpired that morning for the pickups to be bypassed.

In the meantime, Phillips must reschedule his surgery. It could take at least a month for this to happen. With the current stresses on Alberta's health-care system that timetable could very well be overly optimistic.

A Greyhound spokesman, who was reached by phone in Ohio, said the company would work to “accommodate him (Phillips) as best we can.” According to Phillips, he was told to send his ticket to Ontario to get a $33 refund.

What it all comes down to is that Phillips' experience underscores the sad demise of a once honourable way of transportation and service for countless people, much like the slow agonizing death of passenger train service. Fifty years ago citizens everywhere in the province and across Canada relied on train service as a way of life. The trains came on time. Customer service was almost always top-notch. When passenger trains began their demise from everyday life citizens could at least turn to bus service. But it too was forced into its own decline.

Passengers like Phillips can complain of course. Most people will be sympathetic. But in the end we are forced to yield to today's reality. Some call it progress. But like the passenger train, good old-fashioned reliable bus service is heading only to memory lane.

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