Alberta expands rural bus service

Two new routes will connect communities between Red Deer and Innisfail and Medicine Hat and Lethbridge

Alberta is expanding its rural bus pilot project following Greyhound’s decision to end all services on the Prairies.

Two new bus lines, one connecting Medicine Hat to Lethbridge and the other connecting Red Deer to Innisfail, should be running by the end of this year, said Premier Rachel Notley during an announcement in Medicine Hat late last month.

The Medicine Hat and Lethbridge route will connect communities along Highway 3, including Redcliff, Seven Persons, Bow Island, Burdett, Grassy Lake, Purple Springs, Taber, Barnwell, Cranford and Coaldale.

In Red Deer County, the communities of Red Deer, Springbrook, Penhold and Innisfail will be connected.

Each route is getting a $700,000 investment from the province. More than 200,000 people live in the affected areas.

The City of Medicine Hat and Red Deer County are expected to contract out the pilot project. More details on schedules, fares and the type of buses will soon be available.

“We heard one message loud and clear, that enhanced regional public transportation is a top priority,” Notley said during the announcement.

The routes are an addition to other lines that are part of the province’s new pilot project. A route between Edmonton and Camrose, as well as one between Grande Prairie and surrounding communities are expected to be running soon.

The government will monitor the bus routes to determine how effective they are, which will guide future funding decisions.

Notley’s decision to add the routes come after Greyhound decided in early July that it’s pulling out of the Prairies by the end of October.

The company said the routes were no longer cost-effective to run. Contributing factors included declining ridership, subsidies for other bus services, low-cost airlines and growth in car ownership.

Following the decision, rural bus advocates called on governments or other companies to step in, arguing bus service is vital for people who can’t drive or rely on friends or family to get them around.

As well, Greyhound’s pull-out affects some dealers who use the service to ship parts to farmers, particularly in British Columbia.

Notley recently raised the issue of Greyhound’s service cuts at the annual premiers’ meeting in New Brunswick in July.

Following that meeting, the premiers agreed to call on the federal government to work with Greyhound to delay the planned cuts.

The federal government has said it’s communicating with Greyhound and is monitoring the situation to see how the cuts will affect Canadians.

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