At the end of every month, five boxes of formula and a box of syringes and feeding bags arrives in Fort McMurray for April Morgan’s daughter, Lily.
At 3, Lily has a fragile immune system and the formula is the best way for her to get nutrients. When Morgan places an order, the supplies usually arrive about five days later on a Greyhound bus.
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Most of the delivery costs are subsidized by the province, meaning the family pays approximately $6 per month.
But even without the funding from Alberta Health Services, getting the boxes on a Greyhound is the cheapest courier available to the family.
But this past Monday, the monthly deliveries became even more vital when Greyhound announced it was ending service in the prairies, with the exception of a single U.S.-based route connecting Vancouver and Seattle.
“I’m freaking out. Canada Post is going to cost an arm and a leg,” said Morgan. “All of our medical supplies come through on the Greyhound.”
Fewer options for residents
Monday’s announcement means the loss of 12 full-time jobs in Fort McMurray and an end to Greyhound’s travel and delivery services for 107 Alberta communities. Across the prairies, 415 jobs will be cut. The cancellations are scheduled to begin Oct. 31.
The company has blamed a 41 per cent drop in ridership since 2010 for the service cuts, as well as competition from subsidized and inter-regional transit services, the growth of low-cost airlines, regulations and increased car ownership.
River Janes, a supervisor with Greyhound in Fort McMurray, said a typical day would see approximately 60 people leave Fort McMurray from the station, with 70 to 90 passengers arriving from Edmonton.
Alternative options for leaving Fort McMurray are still limited for people without access to a vehicle. Red Arrow offers similar service by connecting Fort McMurray to Edmonton and Calgary, but often at about double the cost. Freight services are also not offered by the company.
Flights to Edmonton and Calgary would be prohibitive for most residents that need to travel to those cities regularly for essential services, such as medical appointments.
“I’m extremely disappointed whenever a service closes. I want the residents of this region to have as many options as possible and every opportunity to have choices,” said Mayor Don Scott. “It may be an opportunity for some of those other services to expand what they do.”
Melissa Herman, a Fort McMurray woman with much of her family in Janvier, worries how Greyhound’s cuts will impact the safety of low-income residents.
“It’s not uncommon for people in rural communities to hitchhike,” she said. “It isn’t the best thing to do, but I worry about an increase in people finding other means to travel that could be dangerous or costly.”
Some residents may not have access to a passport, credit card or driver’s license, she said, leaving few transportation options available aside from Greyhound.
In other cases, an individual that does have those pieces of ID may only be able to afford Greyhound services because they face higher travel costs finding a way to the nearest station.
For family in Janvier, there closest stations are in Boyle, Lac La Biche or Fort McMurray.
“There’s a lot of people who go from Janvier to town and take the Greyhound not just to Edmonton, but everywhere,” she said.
‘Consultation would be critical’
In a statement, Alberta Health Services said Greyhound is one of the services the province uses, but would review other options for shipping blood products, medications and medical supplies.
“We will develop new plans and contracts to make sure there’s no disruption in our ability to ship supplies and medication,” the statement read.
Premier Rachel Notley said Wednesday she would raise the issue when premiers meet for the Council of the Federation next week in New Brunswick.
“Greyhound’s decision this week to suspend services throughout Western Canada significantly diminishes transportation options for hundreds of Canadians throughout our region, potentially harming the economy and quality of life for tens of thousands of people,” she said in a statement.
Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason said Monday that losing Greyhound’s services is an issue of “national importance.”
“Given the developments today, we need the federal government to step up and come up with a national solution that keeps Canadians connected across the country,” Mason said in an email statement.
Scott says the municipality has not yet been contacted regarding any provincial or federal rural transit solutions, although he said the success of any government-led solution must heavily focus on rural communities.
“Do not impose decisions on the rural communities without consulting them first,” he said. “Consultation would be critical.”
-with files from Clare Clancy