In the race for bus passengers, Greyhound is losing to public transit.
Higher costs, low ridership and competition with B.C. Transit have combined to sink the coach line's fortunes in the Okanagan and elsewhere in the province.
That means riders will have fewer bus departures to choose from by month's end. Fifteen routes, including Kelowna-to-Penticton and Kelowna-to-Vancouver, will provide fewer runs as Greyhound Canada tries to climb out of its financial hole. One route on Vancouver Island will be eliminated.
"It allows us to reduce service without abandoning any services in the province," said Grant Odsen, the company's regional manager of passenger services in Kamloops. "This allows us to right-size the business based on demand so we can start to show a profit in the province and work on enhancing the service."
B.C. Passenger Transportation Board approved the reductions Wednesday after Greyhound made its case last fall.
The company said its B.C. operations lost $18 million in the last fiscal year. Officials argued pruning its schedules would save $6.65 million a year and ensure buses will continue to run on every year-round route it operates.
The scheduled bus coverage will drop by one quarter to 6.7 million miles in B.C. The cuts could affect people trying to access medical appointments in Kelowna or Vancouver. One Kelowna resident told the board the province needs adequate route coverage so the poor and aged aren't isolated.
In the Okanagan, people can arrange medical appointments through the Health Connections bus - a B.C. Transit service subsidized by Interior Health between Penticton, Summerland and Kelowna. Much of Greyhound's business in the Valley has bled to the health authority, said Odsen.
"We've seen ridership go down in those markets. IH through B.C. Transit is able to provide trips between . . . destination points at a very much lower cost to the consumer than we do. I'm assuming primarily because they're government subsidized."
Greyhound will reduce the Kelowna-Penticton route from four trips a day in each direction to two. It's dropping the number of Kelowna-Vancouver daily runs each way from seven to five, Odsen said. The changes also affect people in West Kelowna.
Passengers who travel between Kelowna and Alberta via Highway 3 will see the service cut back to once a day. Right now Greyhound offers twice-daily runs three times a week.
The transportation board gave the company up to two weeks to make the frequency changes in B.C. The new schedule for the Kelowna-to-Alberta route kicks in next month.
Greyhound blames the slow economy and rising costs for the downturn. Fuel prices and labour costs are rising, new equipment and maintenance cost more and maintaining bus terminals is more expensive.
Ridership has flattened or declined in the last couple of years. Fewer people live in rural areas, low-cost airlines are attracting customers and more passengers are switching to subsidized services like B.C. Transit, Odsen said.
Still, the company plans to unveil a flashier service that should attract new customers this spring. Greyhound Express, a service launched in Alberta last year, promises coaches with Wi-Fi access, plug-in outlets and more leg room.
The initial launch will roll out the express service between Kelowna and Vancouver and two other routes in B.C. The buses will depart from Kelowna as many as three times a day. The other two daily departures would offer the standard service.
"If we find the Kelowna-to-Vancouver express service is very successful - coaches are filling up and there's excess demand - the business case can be made to add another frequency," said Odsen.