I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting No. 41 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on Thursday, February 3, 2022, the committee is meeting to study inter-city transport by bus in Canada.
Today's meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House Order of November 25, 2021. Members are attending in person in the room and remotely using the Zoom application.
Members of the committee, appearing before us today we have, from the Canadian Urban Transit Association, Marco D'Angelo, president and chief executive officer.
From Motor Coach Canada, we have Vince Accardi, president.
From Ontario Northland, we have Tracy MacPhee, vice-president, passenger rail and motorcoach, joining us by video conference.
From Rider Express, we have Firat Uray, president.
From Transport Action Canada, we have Terence Johnson, president, joining us by video conference.
I'd like to take this opportunity before we begin to inform members that all of today's video conference witness participants have completed the necessary audiovisual checks. Once again, I look over to our interpreters for a thumbs-up to make sure that everything is okay. Perfect.
We will now begin our opening remarks with Marco D'Angelo for five minutes.
The floor is yours.
Good afternoon everyone.
It's great to be here.
On behalf of the Canadian Urban Transit Association and our members, I'd like to thank the chair. I'd like to thank the members of the committee for inviting me to speak about Canadians' travel needs.
Here at CUTA, we represent the transit industry, including transit agencies, private sector operators, manufacturers—the makers of buses and vehicles—on-demand transit service providers and more.
First, I'd like to thank the Government of Canada for working closely with provinces and municipalities to keep transit running during the pandemic. Funding for transit operations was crucial for our frontline workers during the pandemic and for our nation as it goes through its economic recovery every day.
Currently we're seeing how provinces, municipal transit agencies and the private sector are filling the gap to connect Canadian communities. Already we have businesses like Transdev and others entering the intercity market.
BC Transit connects rural areas, for example, along Highway 16, including many indigenous communities that depend on affordable transportation to the province's economic and industrial centres.
Another example is in the Niagara region, where as of January 1 several local systems there—Niagara Falls, Welland, St. Catharines, Fort Erie—will be merging or being moved up to the region of Niagara. That will create vital connections between cities to help boost the economic recovery and, of course, tourism.
I commend the region of Niagara's proactive and innovative approach to regional transit.
Additionally, CUTA supports the government's commitment to high-frequency rail to enhance intercity transit on the Quebec-Windsor corridor. It's one of the most densely populated and economically productive parts of Canada.
It's also very important for the Canadian Urban Transit Association, the CUTA, to support the government's high-frequency rail project to enhance inter-city travel along the Windsor-Quebec City corridor.
Canadians in rural and remote areas who work in or travel to cities need a cost-effective and reliable transit service. We are confident that our members can meet Canadians' intercity travel needs to support growth, but we believe the federal government should support intercity transit innovation.
In recent months, ridership has grown steadily. In September, we were at 73% of pre-pandemic levels. Federal-provincial partnerships aided public transit in its darkest hour. However the job is not yet done.
Most agencies are expecting to find revenue shortfalls in the coming weeks as we enter the new year. Our members cannot be forced to make service cuts. That will make a full economic recovery simply out of reach. Sustainable transportation and transit are essential as our economy reopens.
We call on the government to renew emergency transit operating support in 2023 to help transit systems maintain service levels. We encourage the government to renew the federal-provincial transit and housing funding arrangement that was announced earlier this year. Together we could keep Canadians connected in our rural areas, small towns and large cities.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.
I'm looking forward to answering your questions.
Thank you, Chair and committee members, for inviting Motor Coach Canada, MCC, to present in front of the committee on the impacts of COVID-19 and the reduction of bus services on Canadians and communities across Canada.
MCC is a national, not-for-profit, member-based association representing motorcoach and tour operators across Canada. We represent the interests of bus operators supplying scheduled services, charters, private transit and tourist services, plus tour operators across our great country.
Motorcoach travel is critical to Canada's recovery. Our operators provide cost-effective, safe and environmentally responsible modes of transportation. This not only includes scheduled-service line runs; it also includes moving amateur sports teams, tour groups, universities, colleges, schools, community groups and seniors groups.
Additionally, Motor Coach Canada members provide Canadians with regular, essential and emergency services. For example, motorcoach operators provide transportation for communities that need evacuation and for first responders and emergency services in the medical area and for floods and wildfires.
Our members are primarily small and medium-sized family-owned businesses that have been in this industry for generations. These small businesses play an essential role in connecting our cities, towns and rural communities across Canada. The motorcoach carrier passenger industry of Canada, the bus industry, is a significant force in the Canadian economy. In prepandemic business activity, we had approximately 1,032 companies generating more than $20 billion in operating and non-operating revenues and employing over 118,000 full-time equivalents.
Canada's ground transportation network is currently disconnected, with thousands of routes and hundreds of businesses lost during the pandemic. Service providers were left struggling to restart their businesses. COVID impacts and Greyhound's departure from Canada after nearly a century have left a lasting impact, particularly in rural communities that have relied on buses to connect them to larger towns.
Canadians in both urban and rural communities deserve access to affordable, environmentally friendly transportation. As a result of the COVID pandemic, Canadians have lost their abilities to travel from coast to coast on a single ticket through an affordable and environmentally sustainable mode of transportation. Private motorcoach operators in a post-COVID environment cannot restart all their scheduled service routes as quickly as they would like. Urban routes like Toronto to Montreal are the first to come back. Selling tickets in large populations provides less risk to a private business that depends on the fare box for revenues.
The vast majority of operators are not subsidized. These companies depend on the fares they collect on their ticket sales alone. This means that many rural and remote communities will likely stay disconnected, with limited or no transportation options for years to come. Publicly funded transportation providers cannot reconnect Canada alone. This needs to be done in partnership with private operators.
Canada's travel economy is driven by more than just airlines, rail services and marine transportation. Privately owned motorcoach businesses across Canada are part of Canada's transportation system and must be part of reconnecting our great country.
The Government of Canada's public transit investment funds have been helpful in assisting in building stronger communities, fighting climate change and creating new jobs; however, Canada's private sector transit providers do not receive support through most federal or provincial transportation transfers. They're often not eligible to apply for these programs or grants, nor do they benefit from HST or GST fuel rebates.
This gap in support makes it challenging for private operators to play their vital role in connecting communities and servicing Canadians. They offer hundreds of thousands of kilometres in non-subsidized routes, and they're often the only mode of transportation into and out of rural destinations and communities.
Access to federal transit funding would allow private operators to reconnect rural and urban communities more quickly, and specifically in destinations where public transit is not viable or available.
The federal government has the constitutional responsibility for regulating motorcoach carriers, but through the Motor Vehicle Transport Act it delegates to the provinces the authority to regulate them. This gap has generally left motorcoach carriers without support. Although the government has asked provinces for solutions to help reconnect Canada, the federal government can take even more action and more leadership in redeveloping routes across Canada by a few levers.
First, we recommend—
Thank you, Chair and committee members.
It is my pleasure to represent Ontario Northland today, to share our experiences and perspectives regarding bus transportation between rural and urban cities in Ontario.
Ontario Northland is a Crown corporation, reporting to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. We are a 120-year-old agency providing passenger rail, freight, rail remanufacturing and repair, and motorcoach services. We work hard to maintain our long-standing relationships with people and communities in the north, and our shared history helps inform our deep understanding of the unique needs of northerners as a result.
Unlike urban transportation, which seeks to address congestion problems, at Ontario Northland we seek to address connection problems.
Over the past 10 years we have transformed our motorcoach routes and services to respond to passenger needs. We stop at the doorsteps of hospitals and education centres, and we work closely with municipal partners to ensure travel is accessible, affordable, reliable and, most importantly, safe. We help to take anxiety out of travel to urban centres by connecting to municipal transport, and we are working with other providers—for example, Via Rail—so passengers travelling outside the province can get to where they are going seamlessly.
When Greyhound Canada left Canada in 2020, we expanded our services in northwestern Ontario and into Manitoba to address the urgent transportation needs of Canadians. We continue to engage stakeholders and local businesses to ensure that our services in this part of the country align with the needs of passengers.
As a result, our routes pass through and stop in communities like Fort Frances, Kenora, Ignace, Dryden and more.
Because of this outreach, we know there are still gaps in the transportation needs of our rural communities, which will most certainly increase over time. For example, a large percentage of residents in the north will pass 70 years of age in the coming decade. We need to address the need to provide seniors with safe transportation to urban centres and health care institutions, particularly during winter months. We hear of many Ontarians living in northwestern Ontario who cross the border into Manitoba for health-related appointments.
There are still many rural, remote and northern communities that do not have feeder service to connect to our services. For example, the communities of Manitouwadge and Hornepayne are both located less than 100 kilometres off the Trans-Canada Highway, but they have no public transportation service to connect to our once-a-day service along the Trans-Canada.
At Ontario Northland, our services revolve around access—Ontarians to government services, seniors to medical appointments, students to post-secondary institutions, and so on. The access we provide is a two-way journey, an opportunity to see and be seen, to explore what makes us unique and united.
With all of this in mind, Ontario Northland proposes that the federal government consider the following options to better support transportation services across the country.
One, provide funding for intermodal stations to allow all modes of public transportation to connect in one location, whether it be by intercity bus, rail, light rail or city transit.
Two, allow passengers—and our parcels that need to be connected across the country—to access connecting services to continue the journey across our country and allow a safe location to wait for connecting services.
Three, invest in the development and support of a national motorcoach network to create a system whereby private and public transportation providers can connect with one another, as well as support the technology resources required to operate this national network.
Four, provide funding that would allow privately or publicly funded intercity carriers to access federal infrastructure funding for the acquisition of capital assets, specifically wheelchair-accessible coaches.
In planning for an equitable, sustainable future, the federal government must continue to explore ways to support public, connected transportation needs across the country. Access to services, economic development, education, businesses and people is crucial . Without proper investment in this infrastructure, the country will leave populations behind and untapped potential unmet.
Furthermore, investing in organizations that understand the lived reality of citizens and communities, that recognize the potential for service enhancement and that can plan for innovation and integrated solutions will remain an important ingredient in establishing a path forward.
Thank you again for your time. I welcome any questions you may have.
Mr. Chair and honourable members, thanks for the invitation to appear before the committee in view of its study on intercity transport by bus in Canada.
Launched in 2017 in Saskatchewan as a fully Canadian-owned business—and it still is—following the departure of the Crown corporation Saskatchewan Transportation Company, or STC for short, Rider Express has been expanding its intercity bus transportation services into new territories.
Currently, Rider Express operates in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, and has stops in more than 60 cities and towns across Canada. With the widest network in Canada, Rider Express's services are being utilized by around 15,000 passengers every month. Since its launch, despite having limited resources and funds, Rider Express was able to fill the void created by STC and Greyhound rather quickly.
Rider Express did not use or rely on any form of government subsidy in its operations until the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, which could possibly be the longest and strongest impact the industry has endured in modern times.
We lost 80% of our ridership at the peak of the pandemic, and we are yet to see prepandemic levels. In the past few months, including the summer of 2022, the industry has seen some positive impact on ridership, but it is still reeling from the lack of international tourism. Unlike many companies in the industry, Rider Express was able to keep providing this crucially important public service in such hard times.
Rider Express's success lies partly in our ability to keep our overhead costs down, which enables us to focus on the service. This is what matters the most to the passengers. Rider Express's aim is to reach every corner of Canada, connecting people and businesses. We are searching for ways to do this with our own resources and capabilities.
However, Canada's population density does not make it financially viable to reach every city and town. Naturally, intercity bus services require a presence in every city and town to varying extents. Unable to obtain any support from local, provincial and federal governments, it is a prohibitively heavy burden for a private company to provide its services everywhere. Rider Express tries to keep the overhead costs down to keep its services affordable to all. However, many other major expense items still exist.
A wider transportation network that leaves no city or town behind requires government support. This support does not necessarily have to be in financial funds, but could be provided in other ways, from lifting licensing requirements to the provision of local government facilities to be used in intercity bus services.
Public transportation is not crucially important only to the those who need it; it is also the environmentally best alternative, with its lower-carbon emissions. We strongly believe that having a wide, efficient and affordable ground public transportation network is paramount to a better-off social and economic environment.
This is our speech. We welcome your questions.
I want to thank the committee for taking on this work.
The closure of Greyhound Canada in 2021 was the end of a long saga of service cuts across the country. Transport Action Canada, an organization dedicated to researching sustainable public transportation and representing the passenger perspective, is deeply concerned by the impact of these cuts on Canadians and our communities.
Here in southwestern Ontario, for example, the bus network was decimated in 2013 when Aboutown Northlink shut down. People who'd been taking a bus to appointments at London’s hospitals suddenly faced $100 fares, even for volunteer-run services. The closure of STC, Saskatchewan Transportation Company, in 2017 had similar spillovers into health care, as discussed in some papers I have referenced in my notes to the committee.
Following the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, our federal government has an undeniable moral responsibility to restore an essential network of safe mobility that reaches all communities, large and small.
Mr. Chair, I wish I had a succinct policy solution that would quickly clean up the mess left by FirstGroup PLC’s decision to abandon Greyhound Canada and abandon Canadians, but we don’t think it will be simple. There have been calls for nationalization, but it would be a blunt instrument, ignoring the struggles and successes of Canada’s locally owned and indigenous-owned operators. Companies like Kasper in Ontario, DRL in Newfoundland and Mountain Man Mike’s in the Kootenays kept essential services operating through the pandemic as best they could, despite financial losses.
Neither can we ignore the role of public service operators. Ontario Northland and BC Transit have been instrumental in closing service gaps. There are also grant-funded services reaching many smaller communities. The rural transit solutions fund may build on those.
In some cases, public and private operators have forged partnerships. In others, competition has caused service losses. Although the regulation of intercity buses is delegated to the provinces, what happens in any part of the ecosystem often affects the whole, with national consequences. Northlink’s closure weakened Greyhound’s London hub. The shutdown of STC cut both passenger and package traffic from Greyhound. The end of Greyhound in the west cost Maritime Bus half a million dollars’ worth of package traffic.
On the one hand, deregulation of the industry in Ontario and western Canada has allowed new entrants to step up. Reinstating routes into Quebec took longer. On the other hand, deregulation has allowed chaos. Routes have been started and shut down again with little or no notice. A few city pairs now have four or five bus lines competing, but most communities still have nothing.
Canada’s bus network has also existed largely in competition with VIA Rail, to the detriment of both modes and passengers. Maritime Bus is an exception, and should be seen as a role model, like Amtrak’s Thruway model.
To nurture the complex ecosystem of public and private services that is emerging across Canada back into a thriving network, we believe the federal government must reassume the role of regulatory stewardship and take a systems approach with a nuanced touch.
Passenger information is key. Greyhound used to serve as an agent for connecting carriers. That’s gone. The would-be passenger is on their own. Trying to collate information about routes and schedules, even for a researcher knowing where to look, is like swimming through mud. Some of the smaller bus lines don’t have the resources to keep websites up to date. Even the larger companies lack accessibility features. Most don’t publish general transit feed specification data, so their services don’t appear on Google Maps or other common platforms. This information deficit doesn’t do the industry any favours either. Discoverability fills seats.
Busbud, a Montreal-based start-up, is trying to solve this problem and provide an online ticket gateway for bus and rail. Expedibus in Quebec is making a similar effort to put the interline package network back together between operators in that province. However, a nationwide non-profit clearing house for passengers and package connections, together with a framework for passenger rights and managing disruptions, would strengthen the industry by making bus travel far more dependable and attractive. Too, this would provide an open data framework so that Transport Canada and other policy-makers can see the whole ecosystem and solve for the gaps.
With regard to terminals, passengers need a safe place to wait. With Greyhound went most of the remaining terminals, such as Calgary, Ottawa and London. In Winnipeg, the Greyhound terminal alongside the airport was demolished earlier this year. It was a $7-million facility that opened in 2009, replacing the old downtown terminal at Portage and Balmoral. Today the depot is a steel door in a windowless building at 939 Sherbrooke Street, a half-hour walk from Portage and Main. However, this might be one of the better remaining hubs in western Canada, because it brings together Maple Bus, Ontario Northland and Rider Express. Meanwhile, Mahihkan and NCN Thompson appear to still pick up near the airport, and Kasper stops near the Balmoral transit hub.
One way the federal government could lead is by re-establishing union terminals in key cities, with adequate facilities for passengers, drivers, vehicle stabling and potentially zero-emission fuelling.
Ideally, these would also be at or near train stations, like the new Union Station bus terminal in Toronto, the terminal in Moncton or the terminal at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver.
With regard to accessibility, fragmentation of the network, loss of services and risk of missed connections are amplified for passengers with disabilities. There are no standards for reduced fares or companion fares, and it should not require 48-hour advance notice to travel with a wheelchair. Some vehicles that currently provide a wheelchair space do so awkwardly, requiring most other rows of seats on the bus to be vacated and folded so the lift can be used.
The loss of terminals also means a loss of accessible restrooms and of staff to assist in arranging travel. When curbside pickup locations and schedules are not coordinated with local transit, an accessible taxi ride may be needed to get on the bus, if such a taxi is even available.
The challenge for companies seeking to add new services is this: Buses with good accessibility features are very expensive, and there are only a few models of motorcoach on the market that provide low entry, let alone an accessible toilet. This is another reason that we favour rail for trunk routes and long distances, with bus connections.
To mitigate the cost premium of providing an inclusive and accessible service—
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I want to thank all the witnesses for coming in on short notice. I know we had started another study, but you came here very quickly to fill in.
I want to indicate that I'd hoped we would be hearing from Transport Canada officials, first of all, so we could get an idea. We've heard different testimony today about what the role of the federal government should be. I think it would be instructive for us to hear what programs there are now, and what the jurisdiction of the federal government is.
We read the press releases when Greyhound Canada left parts of the country with a staggered approach and then left altogether. In my home province of British Columbia, there were immediate concerns about Highway 16, the Highway of Tears. As noted in testimony here, BC Transit and the Government of British Columbia stepped in to provide additional services there, as did my hometown.
When I was growing up, there were no public services between towns like Chilliwack and Abbotsford. That has now been filled by BC Transit as well, through their route 66 bus, which is well used by our community. There's now a possibility for communities like mine, which are in a rural space, with lots of farms in between communities, to get from Chilliwack to Vancouver International Airport, for instance, though perhaps it's not the fastest way to travel.
Perhaps I can start there. I'll start with Mr. D'Angelo.
You said the federal government should work closely with municipalities and provinces to keep transit moving. What is the mechanism for that, in your view, other than the federal government having access to lots of money? What is the solution that would provide that integrated system you talked about in your testimony?
Thanks for the question. I appreciate that.
Certainly, I'm very proud of our member, BC Transit, and the great work it's been doing across the province to keep the whole province moving—outside the Lower Mainland, of course, which is run by TransLink.
We've been very pleased with the support received to date, whereby the federal government assisted provinces, which then assisted municipalities during the worst part of the pandemic. It made sure that essential workers could get to their jobs and...to schools, and so on.
We were very happy when, this past February 17, the federal government created an agreement between provinces and the feds to provide $750 million in continued operational support. It means we can avoid service cuts. Ridership is returning but has not returned fully, and the economy continues to open, so we're asking for the renewal of a program like that, a program that brings provinces to the table as well, to participate as partners in ensuring those operating funds reach towns and cities across the country.
As a Crown corporation, we are funded by the province. Every year we have to do a business plan to identify what we expect our ridership to be for the coming year. The ministry will allocate resources to us for that.
We have different divisions, as I mentioned in my submission earlier. For the motorcoach division, we're at approximately 80% cost recovery. The ministry provides the funding for that shortfall. That's just for the operating funding.
For our capital funding, we do receive yearly capital funding to provide for the purchase of buses we will need. We have a fleet management plan we go through, and the ministry is very involved in that.
In terms of our costing for our customers, we do have a cost per passenger that we monitor. One thing we try to make sure we're doing is ensure that we keep the cost to our customer at a reasonable level. We don't want to scare customers away. We don't want to charge exorbitant amounts for tickets for travelling a distance. We're continually looking at ways to optimize our service and where we can find more efficiencies to try to ensure that our revenue streams still come in. It's been very difficult during the pandemic.
Again, we have support from our provincial government to continue those services. When there are stoppages or when bus services do cancel service, then we have the ability to go in and provide that service on short notice, as we did when Greyhound pulled out of all of Canada.
I will think outside the box with you for a moment on the question. Thank you for it.
We know that with funding, innovation can occur, so it's looking at different pilots to meet the needs of different regions. For example, the distances between towns in Atlantic Canada are a lot shorter. We have examples like Kings County transit, which links maybe 10 or more communities in Nova Scotia. That's been a great service that they're providing. Earlier, I mentioned the Niagara region.
I think it's important to connect folks, especially in the farther areas. I'm thinking about northern Ontario. There was a study that was completed in I think 2014 by the Ontario government in looking at different options to provide bus service to supplement the service that VIA Rail isn't capable of providing, simply because it needs additional fleet and additional support. We think that in looking at that there are a lot of opportunities there. There are different rights-of-way.
There are a lot of creative solutions, but there's no one solution for a country the size of Canada when most of the time we're moving people between cities under 100 kilometres apart.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I'd also like to thank the witnesses for being with us today.
We're very happy to see you here. It's an important subject, particularly in rural areas, where people have been seriously affected.
During the pandemic, I heard that there had been a complete shutdown of services and that some companies, private carriers in particular, were facing serious financial problems.
I had the opportunity to meet a few representatives of these companies during that time. They told me that there was government assistance for labour and rents, but that transportation companies did not receive any particular assistance. That meant that the buses stayed parked. However, they had to continue to pay expenses, even if they were not operating their bus lines. The situation at the time had become very complex.
Mr. Accardi, How did you experience the situation and where do you stand today?
It continues to be challenging for private operators, postpandemic. Our members were very thankful for the support the government did come to the table with in terms of rent subsidies and wage subsidies.
You're absolutely right: Their assets were parked, and they're not meant to be parked. There was not much available to help them restart those assets and get them safe to be back on the road. These are big vehicles. Our members were spending $30,000 to $50,000 per unit to get them out of the parking lots, safe and back on the road. That's simply because they were parked.
That was a big challenge that took some capacity out of the system. We're about 80% down from where we were, just in terms of the number of vehicles. Then we added on supply chain issues for parts and other things that we've heard so much about in the automotive sector. It was the same for buses.
It's a very big challenge, but we are thankful for the support that was available to us. Hopefully, through this committee's work, there might be more opportunity in the future.
My next questions are for Mr. D'Angelo.
During the pandemic, the federal government, unusually enough, with a view to keeping public transit going, provided ad hoc assistance to provincial governments, which then redistributed funds to their local public transit corporations. I had the opportunity to meet the representatives of several of these. They told me that this assistance had been helpful, but they would have liked to have still more. Even today, some have not recovered entirely from the problems they went through at the time.
A number of these representatives wanted regular, ongoing and stable financing from the federal government for public transit. They argued that although the idea of infrastructure funding was interesting, it led to additional operating expenses that they would have to pay. At the same time, these entities are not accountable to the federal government, but to the provinces or municipalities.
How then to go about doing something that would actually work? Do you have any ideas about that?
Thanks so much, Mr. Chair.
Thank you to all of our witnesses. I think this is a really important study.
I come to this from the perspective of a part of the country that has predominately rural and remote communities. I was thinking about it, and I believe that transportation options, particularly for low-income folks in rural Canada, are worse now than they have been in a hundred years.
We used to have a train that ran on time, a passenger rail system that was given priority on the rail corridor. In the part of the world where I live, the train might be eight hours late. We used to have a bus service, a national bus service on which you could travel from coast to coast on a single ticket, a service that served almost every rural community in the country. Now, as we've heard, we have a patchwork that fills a fraction of what Greyhound used to serve. I think this is a huge gap in our country, and it has truly national implications, so I'm very appreciative that the committee has made time to talk about this issue.
I want to start by talking about the issue of leadership. What we've heard from the witnesses so far is that there is a need for someone to pull together all of these strings and to create something from what exists in this patchwork of public and private bus options across the country.
Perhaps I'll direct this question to Mr. Johnson. I wonder who in Canada right now is best positioned to provide that leadership.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to all the witnesses who are with us today. Welcome. I particularly enjoyed your testimony.
We do know, of course, that busing and other forms of transportation faced major challenges due to COVID-19 and other complications that arose from that.
Mr. Accardi, first of all, and maybe Mr. Johnson, I want you to comment on some specific needs in Atlantic Canada, because I know that the only bus line in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador that goes from Port aux Basques to St. John's is DRL. It's a family-owned business. It's private sector. I met with them on two or three occasions during the COVID-19 period, and they were having some significant challenges. However, there were a number of disputes, which may not be the right word, or differences of opinion as to who was responsible to support these folks, and whether it was federal or provincial responsibility.
You mentioned regional transit, Mr. D'Angelo. I'm wondering, from a regional perspective, how you would see Atlantic Canada. Is the situation there fundamentally different from all the regions of the country?
DRL is a kind of unique situation, because the bus line actually replaced the Newfoundland railway. It was previously operated by CN. There is kind of a responsibility to keep that running that is separate from the other responsibilities in the network.
For example, if I wanted to go from Corner Brook in Newfoundland to Hay River today, I could do it, but it would usually be complicated and there would be a lot of different tickets. I can't even get a ticket that takes me on VIA Rail, Marine Atlantic and then Maritime Bus to go to Moncton. This is where the idea of a national clearing house is absolutely essential.
You'll find that companies like BusBud that are trying to do this want a cut as brokers. A lot of the bus companies I've spoken to don't have 10% to give a broker. That's why it has to be a non-profit, national clearing house that is operator-agnostic and that everybody can work with. That's where the federal government can really have a role. It's in creating that by working with Motor Coach Canada and with players across the industry.
What does this need to look like to support the industry rather than to take money from it?
It will be a very short question. Thank you, Mr. Bachrach.
You mentioned, Mr. D'Angelo, electrification of the fleet. I have a three-pronged question. A short response would be appreciated.
First, does the technology exist to actually transition to an electric fleet? In terms of the buses that would be used by Greyhound, for example, for 50 passengers, do electric versions of those vehicles exist?
Second, would it be helpful for funding to be put in place at either the provincial or federal level to help support that transition?
Third, would that help offset some of the costs and make it more affordable for consumers?
To continue some of the discussion, Mr. Bachrach mentioned Greyhound's heyday. Not to date myself, but I think that probably would have been 25 years ago. I certainly recall—again, I'm speaking about my region—when the Abbotsford airport became a regional hub and welcomed WestJet 25 years ago. Many Canadians who previously used Greyhound because they didn't have another option are now using some of the discount airlines, such as Flair and Swoop, especially with fares being low right now.
Is there an opportunity for the motorcoach industry or intercity busing to not do what they used to do, which was take people from Vancouver to Calgary, but rather to get people to Prince George so that they can get on a plane and get to their final destination? Is there any vision for connectivity with small regional airports that carry the passengers that buses used to carry? It's now being done with a different mode of transport.
I'm asking whether there is interoperability—whether you're looking to coordinate your schedules with smaller regional airlines in order to get people to regional transit hubs, which are now usually, in this case, the airports.
I don't know if that is to Mr. Accardi or....
Another way to ask the question is this: Are any of you providing service to smaller regional airports?
I myself drive an electric vehicle, and I have found that there are some difficulties with that, but I also found that for a drive from the Montreal area to Ottawa, for example, it might be useful to look into a number of bus routes, even if they take several hours. Once at the destination, drivers only need to connect the vehicle for a few hours, and in the meantime take a break or go and eat a meal.
In any event, the person doing the driving will have to stop at some point. If the stops can be arranged to coincide with when you need to recharge the battery or when the driver needs a break, then that might make sense.
That's my own point of view. Of course you're the specialist, and I'm not. That's why I would like to hear what you have to say. Do you think this transition is about to happen?
That is it, Ms. Koutrakis. Thank you very much.
Thank you, Mr. Johnson.
On behalf of the entire committee, I want to express our gratitude to all of our witnesses for appearing today and for sharing their testimony with us.
For those appearing and joining us online, I would ask you to kindly log off now.
I turn to colleagues for some housekeeping that shouldn't take more than two minutes.
As you know, we have to approve the budget for this study on intercity bus transportation, as well as the proposed draft budgets for the possibility of us visiting the ports, which we were not able to do in the fall. Obviously whatever is approved here still needs to be approved by the liaison committee and the House, but this is at least getting the first step under way.
Do I have any objections to approving these two budgets?
I would also like to note that it adds substantial cost to the trip. I'm seeing some nodding heads, so we will move forward, if there's no objection, with the approval of the budget that excludes Seattle from the tour.
Mr. Mark Strahl: Then we'll go to Singapore.
The Chair: Fantastic. Mr. Strahl would like to go to Singapore. That's duly noted.
All jokes aside, colleagues, is there any objection to approving the budget as stated for the intercity bus study as well as the budget for the port visits?
Seeing no objections, the budgets carry.
Have a great evening, everyone, and a good weekend. The meeting is adjourned.