Can new coach bus company compete with low-cost airlines?
A Saskatchewan-based coach bus company is launching a new, twice-a-day service from Vancouver as Greyhound prepares to put the brakes on all but one of its routes in Western Canada.
Rider Express currently has six buses capable of carrying 55 people each. Two buses a day—one in the morning and one in the evening—will go from Vancouver to Calgary with connections available to Winnipeg.
"We are filling some of the gaps left by Greyhound," company owner Firat Uray told CTV News Thursday. "Hopefully, if everything goes well, we'll take more routes."
Rider Express launched in 2017, looking to fill a gap in the market left behind when the government-run Saskatchewan Transportation Company ceased operations.
Uray said he's confident his business will able to do the same once Greyhound is no longer operating on this side of the country.
"It will take some time for people to know about the company. We had the same problem in Saskatchewan, but right now, 95 per cent of the province knows about the company," he said. "It takes time to get the word out."
Rider Express' first trip from Vancouver will be on Monday morning. Tickets can be booked online or over the phone. Fares to Calgary cost $150, while those looking to go all the way to Winnipeg will have to pay $250 one way, according to Uray.
Effective Oct. 31, Greyhound will only be operating in parts of Ontario and Quebec, save for a lone route between Vancouver and Seattle operated by the its American cousin.
The company made the announcement back in July, citing a 41-per-cent decline in ridership since 2010, the growth of new low-cost airlines and other competitors and the continued rise of car ownership. Greyhound said it was losing $35,000 a day in B.C. alone, and lost $12.9 million in 2016-17 in the province.
Despite providing a similar service at a similar price point, Rider Express hopes free luggage and a beverage service will make its long-haul buses a more attractive option.
"Everybody has a different way to doing business. We have some features that we are trying to bring to this business," he said.
It's unclear, however, how the company plans to keep up rivals in the airline industry.
Rider Express' $150-bus trip from Vancouver to Calgary takes a whopping 10 ½ hours, while a flight from Abbotsford to Calgary on Flair Air takes an hour and 20 minutes and only costs $30 more.
Those going to Edmonton can book a Swoop flight for just $120, $30 less than the bus trip to Alberta.
On the same airline, passengers could then book a flight from Edmonton to Winnipeg for just $40, bringing the total to $160 and less than 3 ½ hours of travel time as opposed to $250 and more than 20 hours for the same trip on a bus.
B.C. Transportation Minister Claire Trevena called Greyhound's move hugely problematic for people who depend on the service in the province's Interior and to get to and from Alberta.
“At no point did Greyhound reach out to me, or my staff, to have a conversation on solutions to keep people connected - something I would have expected, given their long history in this province,” she said at the time.
The provincial government also said it wasn't ruling out subsidies to private companies as a way to provide service.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Shannon Paterson and The Canadian Press