Bus Transportation | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Bus Transportation

The word "bus," short for omnibus, refers to any self-propelled road vehicle capable of carrying more persons than a private automobile.

Bus Transportation

The word "bus," short for omnibus, refers to any self-propelled road vehicle capable of carrying more persons than a private automobile. The terms coach and bus are used interchangeably, although, strictly speaking, buses are outfitted for short-distance travel and coaches have more comfortable seating and other amenities for longer journeys. Buses are the most common means of public conveyance within and between cities and towns in Canada and often the only public service. For intercity markets with distances of less than 500 km, the bus provides an attractive combination of low price and frequent departures.

Development of Bus Transportation

The earliest bus and coach services in Canada were horse-drawn and began to make their appearances following the Seven Years' War. Prior to 1800, Halifax had a stage service to Windsor. Montréal was linked with Québec City, Albany and St Johns (Saint Jean). Upper Canada had several routes, including one between Newark and Chippawa.

Startup dates were later in the West, reflecting the pace of development. The famous BX (Barnard's Express, later BC Express) ran its first stage up the CARIBOO ROAD in 1863, between Lillooet and Soda Creek, BC. As the road network expanded, so did Barnard's route, connecting what was then BC's largest community, Barkerville, with Fraser R steamers at Yale.

The inauguration of the CPR across Canada also spurred the development of stagecoach lines on the Prairies. An early hub was Moosomin, Sask, which had stagecoaches north to Fort Ellice (Qu'Appelle River steamboats), south to the US at Boscurvis and northwest to Redpath, Kinbrae and Montreal Colony (now Bredenbury). Moosomin stages played an important transport role at the time of the North-West Rebellion.

Urban, horse-drawn bus lines began to appear as Canadian cities grew. Some of these were livery or station transfer services, such as those in Montréal, Toronto and elsewhere which took people from steamer docks or railway stations to commercial and residential districts, or served as a portage between one water system and another. Others offered a more comprehensive city service as was the case in Victoria during the 1880s. Still others were adjuncts to horse-drawn streetcar networks, either year-round or seasonally.

In Montréal, the usual pattern of operation was horse streetcars in the summer and fall, horse buses in the slush of spring, and sleighs in winter. Some companies survived the transition from horse to self-propelled buses and exist to this day: Brewster Transport (Alta, BC) and Penetang-Midland (Ont) are two. In other cases, the individuals in charge of a horse operation made the transition to electric street railways and motorbuses, as did Francis Stillman Barnard of Victoria (son of the BX founder).

Following some early experiments, urban motorbus and electric trolleybus services began to appear in earnest after WWI, first as a supplement to streetcar lines, and in most cities subsequently, as a replacement. The rural and intercity bus industry similarly flowered in the late 1920s and 1930s, largely supplementing other modes, subsequently experiencing its major growth from the late 1940s to the late 1960s. The extension of highway networks and the growth of suburban areas have offered new opportunities in subsequent years.

Types of Bus Service

Most people are familiar with the scheduled or regular route service: a bus runs according to a fixed timetable, serving set points along specific roads. Anyone may ride, upon payment of a set fare, and packages may be sent on intercity/rural services. Most buses are used for scheduled route service. Charter services represent another common type of bus operation in which people pay as a group for transportation directly to the place and at the time of their choosing.

Tour services are a form of bus transportation and may operate on a regular schedule; alternatively the tour may follow a circuit covering a major part of the country, with arrangements for meals and lodging included. Hundreds of bus companies are engaged in the charter and tour fields.

Industrial bus systems provide scheduled services for commuters to a particular job location not covered by public transportation, particularly in BC and Alberta. Most commonly these services are paid for by the employer, both to assist the worker and as an alternative to maintaining parking areas. Some industrial fleets have hundreds of buses. In the BC lumber industry there are more buses in industrial service than in the Vancouver urban motor bus fleet.

Airport bus services, similar to the railway "station bus" of an earlier era, link airports with the downtowns of major cities. They may also provide a direct ride to smaller cities nearby.

The yellow school bus is a common sight across Canada. Both public and private ownership is to be found, with funds for operation in either case coming from the education tax base. Over 700 million trips are handled each year on some 36 000 school buses.

Though most regions of Canada have good route coverage, there is one striking omission from networks in both Canada and the US: the virtual absence of short-distance rural routes. In Canada, these movements are handled by special-purpose services: yellow school buses, minibuses for the elderly or the handicapped and industrial contract runs for workers. In Europe these various travel demands are usually handled on one system.

Bus Transportation Companies

There are over 1000 companies providing bus service, but most routes are operated by such major carriers as Acadian Lines, Canada Coach, Gray Coach, Grey Goose, Greyhound Lines of Canada, SMT Eastern, Saskatchewan Transportation, Terra Transport (Canadian National) and Voyageur. Five of these companies are privately owned and the remainder are crown corporations. The nature of the territory, frequency of service and growth rate of the economy in the area served determine whether any given company makes a profit.

Technology and Manufacturing

Buses come in many types: the standard rear-engine, 2-axle bus, found in every city, and its 2- or 3-axle motorcoach equivalent for intercity service; the school-type bus, employing a truck chassis with the engine out front; the articulated bus, of extra length and hinged for easier cornering; and the doubledecker, used on many sightseeing routes. Electric trolleybuses have been used since the beginning of bus transport, with 4 major cities possessing modern fleets at present.

Historically, many small firms were engaged in bus manufacturing, such as Sunnyside Auto Body Works (Alta), Laurie Wagon (Man), Smith Brothers (Ont), St-Lin Bodies (Qué) and Middle West Pubnico Bus Builders (NS). As time passed, a reduced number of larger companies met Canadian domestic and export needs.

For city transport, General Motors Diesel Division, Flyer Ltd, and Ontario Bus Industries dominate. For intercity and rural applications, 2 builders (1987) are noteworthy, each of which has evolved some special feature: Prevost Car (Qué) and Motor Coach Industries (Man). Prevost has developed a cost-effective way of providing large windows that curve up into the roof of a coach, which is of special appeal to tour and charter operators.

Motor Coach Industries, through its link with Greyhound Lines of Canada, has developed a coach that can produce 2 or more million kilometres of service at low cost and high reliability, resulting in its widespread use in scheduled service.

Regulation of bus transportation rests with the provincial governments. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the federal government has the right to regulate interprovincial bus transportation, but for practical reasons the individual provinces undertake this function in consultation with each other.

Scheduled services are closely regulated. Most rural routes lack sufficient population to support more than one carrier. Busier city-to-city lines are usually restricted to one carrier, so that profits earned there can supplement service to thinly populated territory. Fares, as well as entry and exit from the marketplace, are controlled.

Charter and tour services are also regulated, though in some jurisdictions the restriction on the number of authorized carriers has been eased. For all practical purposes, operating authorities are granted in perpetuity.

Airports usually have insufficient bus-traffic potential to warrant more than one carrier per route, so monopolies are awarded. An important element of competition is introduced every 5 to 10 years, when open bidding is held by airport authorities to choose a carrier for exclusive operation over the subsequent period.

Future Prospects

Canada may be a nation of automobile owners, but for surface travel its people have a strong propensity to use public transport. Canadians use scheduled bus lines and railway services more than 3 times as often as their US neighbours. Similar results are found when urban-transit ridership is compared between the 2 countries for cities in comparable population groups.

With the widespread network of services and bargain-priced fares, Canadians are likely to continue their support of this safe and energy-efficient form of transport. See also STREET RAILWAYS; TRANSPORTATION; URBAN TRANSPORTATION.