By Korie Marshall

Greyhound bus service in Valemount may soon be improving, but Grant Odsen, Regional Manager for BC Interior wants to know if the bus has missed stops. Moving the bus stop to a 24-hour location and dealing with drivers missing stops are two of the top issues raised by the Valemount Chamber of Commerce, and Greyhound is addressing them.

The Chamber took action recently on the problems with Greyhound bus service locally. A number of local businesses brought complaints to the Chamber, saying that poor bus service was limiting their hiring of temporary staff which is critical to the running of hotels and small businesses; tourists are unlikely to visit Valemount by bus because of the over-night service time; people have been left waiting at the station, basically a bench since the hosting business is closed overnight, and women especially feel vulnerable alone; out-of-town doctor’s appointments and flights have been missed due to lack of communication and disrespectful behaviour, including the bus not stopping; Greyhound’s complaints process does not work; and the perception of unreliability was putting people off using the bus service.

Kiba Dempsey began collecting local stories of problems customers have had, and he found some stories that were even more disturbing than the personal stories he’d already heard from members of the Chamber. Although the focus of the committee was on Valemount, Dempsy notes that McBride has a similar arrangement for bus service, and he heard a number of very similar stories from McBride residents. Also, other Chambers from across BC have contacted him, with many similar stories and concerns.

Dempsy and the committee identified five improvements needed: addressing safety concerns about being outside at night, especially in the winter; busses should not be leaving the stop before the scheduled time, or missing a stop; Greyhound’s complaint service needs to be improved; more convenient service times, for example 6:00 am rather than 2:00 am; and customers need a method to check if the bus is running late.

After hearing these concerns from the Chamber, Peter Hamel, Greyhound’s Passenger Services director and Osden met with members of the Chamber on February 27th. Dempsy says they seemed to be genuinely surprised by the number and severity of the complaints the Chamber had collected.

Osden told the Chamber busses missing a scheduled stop or leaving a stop before the ticket time is a disciplinary offence for the driver. Greyhound spokesperson Lanesha Gipson confirmed to the Goat that if this happens, customers can call Osden at 604-661-0310 to report the issue, including missing a stop at the Prince George Airport.

Greyhound says they are in discussions with a 24-hour service station to move the bus depot. The current bus depot is at Monashee Motors, which is open between 8 am and 5 pm, so there is no shelter or access to facilities or a ticket agent near the scheduled service time – 2 am – and Greyhound says they have already identified this as unacceptable. Jason VanderWilke, manager of the Petro Canada station, confirmed they have been in talks with Greyhound since last August. Greyhound says “barring unforeseen circumstances,” the change is expected to take place within the next 30 days.

Greyhound also confirmed their busses are outfitted with a vehicle locating system, and agents have real-time contact with the central dispatch, should there be any schedule delays. Dempsy says once the depot is moved to a 24-hour garage, customers will be able to check with the ticket agent to see if a bus is late.

Greyhound would not comment to the Goat on any possible changes to the schedule, but Dempsy says they explained to the Chamber the schedule is determined by the end-points of the route – Edmonton and Vancouver. He says they were told the run that came through Valemount in the afternoon lost money, as riders were not boarding the bus at the end points at that time. Dempsy doesn’t think Greyhound has any plans for adjusting the service schedule. Greyhound did not comment on their complaints process.

Dempsy says that although the community has been suffering for some time with Greyhound issues, he felt the Chamber received a quick and positive response to their concerns. He says he is hopeful that services will be greatly improved if these actions occur. However the lack of a daytime route is still an outstanding issue, and he says the Chamber will continue to investigate options, including the possibility of government funding to offset the costs of providing rural service.