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Intercity Bus Services

Saskatchewan's bus system (STC) is a provincially owned crown corporation.

I'm not sure whether there is a political appetite in other provinces (i.e. Ontario) to set up a system like this.
Indeed - I can't see the provincial government running bus services in Ontario. We should leave it to private operators such as Ontario Northland and Go Transit.
 
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Indeed - I can't see the provincial government running bus services in Ontario. We should leave it to private operators such as Ontario Northland and Go Transit.
Point well taken...
I guess I was referring to a system that spanned the entire province.
GO serves just Toronto and area. Northland is also fairly geographically limited in its reach.
Lack of cooperation between competing entities ensures that transfers from one system to another are difficult and impractical.
By comparison, STC branches out into all areas of the province of Saskatchewan.
 
Also don't forget taxi services as something which, due to their non-routed flexibility, have stolen the thunder from buses...
 
Ontario Northland & GO + private bus lines

Now that GO has expanded, you can travel much of the province on services directly provided by Ontario taxpayers. Niagara, Peterborough, Barrie, Sudbury and all the way to James Bay -- it's actually a lot of coverage.

Do we need to have provincial bureaucracies run transport across the province if it means that private carriers are squeezed out? The aim, it seems to me, is to maximize coverage (via reliable, comfortable and speedy bus or train) with the least subsidy.

As I kvetched in print recently, Ontario has no coherent plan for intercity passenger service. Regional plans, yes - but they are not linked well.

I took the Northlander to Huntsville yesterday. These poorly-suspended cars were, I understand, the original GO mono-levels ;^) and ONR trains occasionally tow GO bi-level cars north for refurbishment. GO has a huge budget for keeping its cars in decent shape, for expansion, and for advertising.

GO even explored bidding for ONR when it was to be sold off years ago. Now we have two large bus and rail networks that are run by different ministries with no coordination. If a tiny bit of GO's advertising budget were to be directed at the Northlander, people might actually know it still runs.

So government transport carriers are not guaranteed improvements over private coach lines. The question is can Greyhound and Coach Canada (or other services like Can-Ar) be convinced to continue serving money-losing routes while giving them greater access to profitable corridors? If I understand properly, the monopolies along most routes are set by the province. Toronto-Niagara is an exception -- both (Scottish owned, by the way) bus companies can operate intercity and commuter runs, with subsidized competition from VIA, and now GO.
 
The Question

To me, the question is this:

For what purpose should publicly owned transport services be expanded?

I think the answer is fairly straight forward; to provide an affordable and effective means of travel to every place in Ontario (to the extent possible/practical), for the most part, where private carriers can not or will not operate such a service.

It also needs to be said though, that we can not confine gov't operated transit to only the money-losing routes, that is a defacto subsidy to the profit of private carriers. Public carriers can and will fill the gaps on certain money-making operations where this makes good bottom-line sense and good network sense.

In truth, I think that means a fairly limited role for private carriers. Certainly there is no role I can foresee in rail, with the possible exception of some tourist train services like Agawa Canyon. Though I'm not sure it wouldn't make more sense to have this service run from within a larger public transportation family.

There likely is some room for bus services, in a mega-corridor, like Toronto-Montreal or a in certain odd-medium carry routes, that can make money, but probably not much, that don't neatly fit into a network model or don't have railway-based competition.

****

I am personally lobbying for a number of new rail services in Ontario, and I would imagine, if I (and others) were successful, it would make a very large dent in buses.

1) Return Rail to Thunder Bay at least 3x per week, by restoring a second Transcontinental route.

2) I want 'Cottage Country/Resort Trains' out of Toronto. Owen Sound, Collingwood, Wasaga Beach, Huntsville/Algonquin Park, Peterborough Kawarthas.

One reason I continue to own a car, even though I live in Toronto, is I love to take weekend excursions, and if you take more than 2 or 3 per year, the cost for car rental can start to add up.

But I have no interest in taking a bus, limited to HWY speeds, stuck in traffic, along a barren Highway route, to such places. Sounds dull and slow.

But a 125-160km/ph train along a scenic route, with a bar car, and an observation deck, sounds quite good!

I'd love to be able to go camping via Train, though I suspect relaying the Algonquin trackage is unlikely, but this is where Bus meets Train service in Huntsville, dropping you at the various campgrounds would work wonders!

Same Idea north of Owen Sound, where I have difficulty imagining justifying relaying track to Wiarton, never mind extending it north to Tobermory which I love to visit.

Most of the other places I noted though, I believe are justifiable on passenger traffic alone; and would probably make a good fit with freight services on those same lines.

** Note I am not delusional about where these fit on the priority scheme.

They can and should fall below many other more worthy projects; but that is where I hope and think things are headed in the longer term.

And if that is the case, the role of private bussing networks will surely be greatly reduced.
 
There is no reason why private companies cannot be a part of GO Transit. GO should tender out the bus routes to the lowest bidder with requirements of GO branding, connections to trains where applicable, minimum schedule frequencies, minimum service standards, and requirements for accessibility. The value of GO is a single fare mechanism, a single brand, a single website to get schedules from, and services which are efficient by conencting to trains where volume of passengers or road congestion makes it a good choice. The value of GO is not a provincial agency owning busses and paying staff. The fact that there is already monopoly service on routes the move to a branded service contract should be straight forward. Bombardier is already contracted to operate the trains. Why not contract Greyhound or other carries for GO Transit service? As long as there is a public tendering process and the contracts are on a route by route basis you ensure a competitive environment.
 
^^ I agree with NorthernLight there. There is definitely a niche for busses.
In big corridors like Toronto-Montreal, it's as the cheap option. Planes are easily the most expensive, but will get you there fastest, while trains are a good half the price of planes, but go a bit slower. Then there would be busses, which are rather slow, but can be very cheap (around $2 if you get lucky with the booking.) Since these routes would be express, they're really no slower than cars for an intercity trip, and you get a nice relaxing ride in a coach with probably the same cost as it would for gas on the trip.


I too have a number of rail services that I'd like to see.

First of all would be the Vacation rail services, which right now I can think of two logical express trains. The first would be Union-Barrie-Orillia-Huntsville, with trains from Barrie to Collingwood and Orillia-Parry Sound, and train meet bus connections from all those locations. The second would be Union-Lindsay-Peterborough, with train meet bus connections.

I'd also like to see a line specifically linking Northern Ontario together. It could run Ottawa-North Bay-Sudbury-Sault Ste. Marie-Thunder Bay, and maybe even to Winnipeg at a reasonable frequency and speed. I know I'm dreaming for such a route to average 130 or 140 km/h, but it'd be great for it to be able to get top speeds of 160 km/h with minimal delays.

Then there's also the Niagara Region intercity service, which would be rather nice and make a crapload of sense.

The last thing that I'd like to see would be a sort of pilot project. It'd run through the Toronto-Hamilton-London Corridor, and on top of regular service (I dunno if there's already service along there,) a local service along that line that'd have stations at all those little villages and hamlets that dot the corridor. Doing this along with regular rail and freight service might require a large portion of the corridor to be triple or quadruple tracked, but I think it'd be interesting to see how it'd turn out. If the trains could get a good top speed (maybe 160 km/h,) it could be almost just as fast as a car on a highway, and I think there could be demand for reasonable frequencies, maybe even 15 minutes after a couple years of good service.
I think the Toronto-Hamilton-London corridor would be perfect to pilot this, though it'd be more like a Hamilton-London corridor, since Toronto-Hamilton is already managed by Go. There are a lot of different-sized villages, towns and hamlets that were pretty much all built on the rail corridor, many which still have abandoned stations from the glory days of rail.
 
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^^ Rail uses fuel a lot more efficiently than busses do. Rail also has the potential to go much faster than busses, maybe even twice as fast compared to those northern ontario roads. As gas prices get higher and higher, that extra fuel efficiency gives rail a big advantage over road.

Whatever the fuel efficiency advantages, the economic rational behind running passenger trains to remote communities hasn't made sense since WWII, if even then. You can look at VIA's figures an see quite easily that routes like Winnipeg-Churchill will never sustain themselves. Bus routes can't sustain themselves to these far flung settlements, and they don't have to deal with the technical issues surrounding building railways in boreal or sub-artic conditions.

Rail also has the advantage of higher speeds. Rail could potentially go at over 300 kilometers per hour, while highways have a top (congestion free) speed of just over 120 km/h. I'm not expecting Northern Ontario to get HSR, but max 160 km/h seems doable. Considering that those Northern Ontario roads aren't the best (probably max 100 km/h,) rail could have a big speed edge on cars (and busses.)

Have you ever taken a train in North Ontario? I can assure you there are no speed advantages. The last time I took the Northlander to New Liskeard, the train never averaged more than 80km/h, if that. Probably less if I included the amount of time we were stuck on a siding to let a freight train by. Building a railway to accommodate 300 km/h trains would require entirely new infrastructure, which simply isn't happening. Ever. Nobody anywhere thinks it would make sense to serve the mighty metropolis of Gimli, Manitoba or Sioux Lookout, Ontario with some multi billion dollar train. Even 160km/h trains would require new, exclusive passenger railways which would imply thousands of km of new high quality track and electrical work to serve a population base smaller than Scarborough.

Most of the towns in Northern Ontario were also built on the rail lines. Because of this, most of the towns have rail lines going straight through them, while the highway is a couple kilometers away, which saves more time.

I really don't think you have ever taken a train to these towns. Nobody in any of the cities we are talking about lives anywhere near train stations (nobody lives anywhere near just about anything, hence why cars are ubiquitous).

Rail is also a lot more comfortable than a bus or car, due to the smoothness of steel wheels. Too bad not many people care about actual comfort anymore though. If it's comfort vs. speed, speed always wins in the modern age.

Having driven, flown and taken the train around Northern Ontario, I can say with absolutely certainty that rail is by far the least comfortable of the three options. It's not even really a comparison.
 
Caribou Coach is apparently interested in picking up at least some of the NW Ontario routes.

Caribou Coach Stepping up to Outrun Greyhound
Written by James Murray
Monday, 07 September 2009 17:05

Thunder Bay, ON -- The bus routes in Northwestern Ontario that Greyhound Canada says they don't want may not be idled after all. Caribou Coach is looking to operate them. The move by Greyhound Canada to cancel service in Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba has brought interest from the company into taking over the routes.

More details on the threatened cuts to Greyhound Bus service in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario are being reported in The Guardian, a newspaper in the UK. The paper's business section reports, "The Scottish transport operator FirstGroup has been accused by Canada's government of acting like a "bullying multinational" by slashing rural routes on its Greyhound Canada bus network, in a cost-cutting move that risks leaving far-flung towns bereft of regular links to the rest of the country.

"Greyhound, which was bought by FirstGroup as part of its $3.6bn (£2.2bn) takeover of the US group Laidlaw two years ago, has announced that it intends to withdraw from a large chunk of Canada, including the province of Manitoba and north-western parts of Ontario. Without government support to cover losses, the company said it might go further by cutting services in western Canada, which could include routes to cities such as Vancouver, Alberta and Edmonton". (Source: www.guardian.co.uk)

The cuts threatened by Greyhound to end service in Northwestern Ontario and Manitoba have brought critisism from across the district. However if the Northwestern Ontario company were able to step in and replace Greyhound service would remain.

The company states, on an online petition:

"We the undersigned hereby lend our support to Caribou Coach Transportation Company Inc. in its application to the Highway Transport Boards in Ontario and Manitoba for the purposes of operating scheduled services between the cities of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Thunder Bay, Ontario, and Sault Ste Marie, Ontario and including the towns and municipalities located along highways 1 & 17 between Winnipeg and Sault Ste Marie. We the undersigned also request that Greyhound Canada work with Caribou Coach in order to facilitate and assist in developing a seamless transition of services.

"This service would include: Regular Scheduled Services including, but not limited to the following municipalities in Ontario and Manitoba: Dryden; Ignace; Kakbeka Falls; Kenora; Marathon; Nipigon; Sault Ste Marie; Schreiber; Terrace Bay; Thunder Bay; Upsala; Vermilion Bay; Wabigoon; Wawa; White River & Winnipeg, Manitoba".

To offer your support go to www.cariboucoach.ca/Online Petition.htm
 
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Semi-reasonable arguments
You do realize that this is because our rail infrastructure is ancient, right? I dare say that in Northern Ontario, our infrastructure has got to be 100 years old right now.

With modern infrastructure, trains could hit 160 km/h and probably average at at least 100 with good management. But it seems that once again, we are not worthy for the modern world.
 
With modern infrastructure, trains could hit 160 km/h and probably average at at least 100 with good management. But it seems that once again, we are not worthy for the modern world.

If it is such a good idea, why don't we see multiple companies rushing to lay down track to offer passenger train service?

If it can't be done without government money, we need to ask whether it is worth doing.
 
Getting modern high-quality track financed and built is difficult enough in the flat and highly populated southern Ontario. Northern Ontario has well under a million people (how many of them would live even within 100km of a rail line is another question) and it is some of the most difficult territory for railway construction in the country.

The costs would be astronomical, and it would benefit very few people.
 
Getting modern high-quality track financed and built is difficult enough in the flat and highly populated southern Ontario. Northern Ontario has well under a million people (how many of them would live even within 100km of a rail line is another question) and it is some of the most difficult territory for railway construction in the country.

About 90% of Northern Ontario's population lives within 100 km of a rail line - every town over 10,000 (with the notable exception of Timmins, the rail is abandoned into town).

The only places far from rail in Northern Ontario are the fly-in native communities, and Balmerton/Red Lake.

Of course, high-speed rail would not be practical in the North, but minor track improvements, signalling and more sidings for passing would do wonders for making passenger rail practical. Let's start with re-starting the CP transcontinental, and adding an Ottawa-Sault Ste. Marie via Sudbury train and bus connections where practical. And a useful Toronto-Sudbury train.
 
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About 90% of Northern Ontario's population lives within 100 km of a rail line - every town over 10,000 (with the notable exception of Timmins, the rail is abandoned into town).
First, living "within 100km" of a rail line is hardly a sign of anything. Nobody will drive an hour plus only to hop onto a train. Second, even using this number, that only gives us a population base about the size of Scarborough to justify thousands of kilometers of railway. More definitively, you are really talking about Sudbury, T-Bay and the Sault. Those cities aren't really in any major trouble transportation wise. They all have good road networks, regional airports, intercity buses and, yes, rail service. Theses aren't the cities Greyhound is pulling out of, most of which are under 10k people and are totally illogical to serve with passenger rail.

Of course, high-speed rail would not be practical in the North, but minor track improvements, signalling and more sidings for passing would do wonders for making passenger rail practical. Let's start with re-starting the CP transcontinental, and adding an Ottawa-Sault Ste. Marie via Sudbury train and bus connections where practical. And a useful Toronto-Sudbury train.

Is there any sign that people who live in those cities actually want those services? In all my dealing with North Ontario, I have never heard of anyone longing for a train from Sudbury to Ottawa, or a train to anywhere for that matter. That is despite these operations typically being highly subsidized as is. Most people I talk to from Sudbury are pretty happy about getting the 400 extension and care more about improvements to the Trans-Canada highway than being able to take a train to Toronto. CN/CP obviously don't think this region is in need of major rail expansion, air carriers aren't ramping up their schedules and Greyhound is treading water, so I really don't see where this demand would come from.
 
First, living "within 100km" of a rail line is hardly a sign of anything. Nobody will drive an hour plus only to hop onto a train. Second, even using this number, that only gives us a population base about the size of Scarborough to justify thousands of kilometers of railway. More definitively, you are really talking about Sudbury, T-Bay and the Sault. Those cities aren't really in any major trouble transportation wise. They all have good road networks, regional airports, intercity buses and, yes, rail service. Theses aren't the cities Greyhound is pulling out of, most of which are under 10k people and are totally illogical to serve with passenger rail.



Is there any sign that people who live in those cities actually want those services? In all my dealing with North Ontario, I have never heard of anyone longing for a train from Sudbury to Ottawa, or a train to anywhere for that matter. That is despite these operations typically being highly subsidized as is. Most people I talk to from Sudbury are pretty happy about getting the 400 extension and care more about improvements to the Trans-Canada highway than being able to take a train to Toronto. CN/CP obviously don't think this region is in need of major rail expansion, air carriers aren't ramping up their schedules and Greyhound is treading water, so I really don't see where this demand would come from.

why are you even debating this topic. Arn't you tired? The answer is obvious and most people will probably know that you're unquestionably right, as I'm sure you do as well.

sometimes we need to let people educate themselves.
 

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