Small Manitoba communities without bus service 'getting by as best we can,' but say they need more options
While communities across Western Canada found out this week they'll have to learn to manage without Greyhound's bus service, people in some Manitoba towns that have been without such service for years say they've found other ways to help residents get around — but they'd still like to see more transportation options.
"I think we have more seniors here than anywhere in Manitoba," said Barb Mankewich, who runs the Teulon District Seniors Resource Council.
Mankewich said without access to public transportation like buses, seniors in Teulon — a town in Manitoba's Interlake with a population of about 1,200, which hasn't had bus service in more than a decade — have been forced to rely on the community's three accessible vans.
"Handi-vans are a wonderful service. It's run out of Teulon's hospital and they do medical appointments, recreation transport — they do pretty much any kind of transport that you'd want," she said.
"They do little shopping trips in town — it's called Toonie Tuesday — and they're trying to get people to take advantage of the Toonie Tuesday."
But she says the van service is mostly needed for those who can't make it to Winnipeg for medical appointments.
"It can be costly for the seniors, and it's a service that is badly needed," she said.
The trips cost $70 to Winnipeg — about 55 kilometres away — and $60 to Selkirk for a round trip.
While Teulon isn't among communities affected by Greyhound's announcement this week, many other Manitoba communities were.
The transportation company announced on Monday it will cancel bus routes in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba and all but one route in B.C. — between Seattle and Vancouver — by Nov. 1 of this year.
Besides raising concerns from those who rely on bus transportation for medical services, the announcement has also raised safety concerns.
"I am concerned about safety — not just [for] women but all people that are needing transportation from First Nation communities and the surrounding small towns around Winnipeg," said Christine Brouzes, co-director of the Winnipeg group Ikwe Safe Ride. The donation-based service primarily offers women and families rides around the Winnipeg.
"Women don't go missing sitting in their living room watching television, they go missing somewhere between Point A and Point B," Brouzes said.
"It's those transportation options that need to be enhanced and thought of in a safety way, not removed."
Volunteers step up
Mankewich says in Teulon, in addition to the accessible vans, people have also come to rely on volunteer drivers to offer free rides to those who need them to get to medical appointments.
Dianna Shynko has been a volunteer driver for several years.
"Quite a long time ago I had cancer, and I had people driving for me from CancerCare, and I always thought when I get better and retired I was going to volunteer and give back to the community," she said.
Shynko lives in Komarno — just north of Teulon — and is happy to be living in a rural community, but she believes there should be more options for transportation.
"It's sad because it's expensive to drive to the city … gas is expensive, and people have no other alternative but to hire somebody," she said.
People living in Gimli, 35 kilometres northeast of Teulon, have been using handi-vans since the Interlake community lost Greyhound service in 2012.
Oliver Monkman is a senior who rides the vans regularly. He lost his driver's licence after suffering a stroke a few years ago.
"It's the only way I travel," he said. "But I think it would be good to have bus service back."
Mike McDonnell, who uses a wheelchair, agrees.
"A lot of people were disappointed when Greyhound left," he said.
"People have had to adapt to that."
Bus service needed
The 16-seat vans have been a success in Gimli over the years, according to Bruce McDonald, who runs Eastern Interlake Handi-Van in Gimli and is also a driver for the service.
"Last month was extremely busy," he said, adding that demand for the van service is up.
"Normally we would be making two or three medical runs a month. Last month we did eight."
The three handi-vans in Gimli are funded by the municipality, the provincial government and the Interlake-Eastern Regional Health Authority.
"If we had more funding we could probably reach out to even more people, and more communities," McDonald said
But he said maintaining the vans isn't cheap. It costs $200 to fill up the van with gas, and they need to be refuelled every two to three days.
McDonald says there is a need for bus service but he understands why it isn't always be viable.
"There are people that need that service but it's kind of a dying breed, these buses and vehicles," he said.
He doesn't expect things to change any time soon.
Kasper Transportation said this week it will be adding bus routes in Manitoba to fill the void left by Greyhound Canada.
The Thunder Bay, Ont., company said it hopes to eventually expand its service to smaller communities in Manitoba like Gimli.
"Until that happens we'll just be doing what we're doing now, which is getting by as best we can," McDonald said.