Wednesday, November 12, 2014

"Unfair competition" will cost us how much?

by Ali Gator

Per this article, Coach Canada (CC) is phasing out bus service between Hamilton and Niagara Falls citing “unfair competition” and expansion by GO Transit.

I assume their claim of unfair competition stems from GO Transit being “heavily subsidized”.  Can someone quantify the subsidy?  We’ve seen previously how the GO Transit’s routes through Niagara region operate inefficiently.  Also, the recent personnel issues there make one wonder who is running the show.  I’ll give CC the benefit of the doubt on the competition matter, but I’m not buying in on their “expansion” plea.

GO Transit doesn’t operate a route between Niagara Falls and downtown Hamilton.  A Park & Ride stop exists at Barton and Nash in Stoney Creek, and Hamilton Transit (HSR) operates local buses between there and downtown.  There exist alternate routes from Burlington GO station to Hamilton, but I won’t get into the logistics of those.  Is Coach Canada confusing “expansion by GO Transit” with consumer demand for rail service to the region?

Is CC losing money, because they made errors in their strategic business plan?  Is meandering through small communities often for no passengers a wise practice?  Let’s not forget that the Niagara region has Canada’s highest unemployment rate.  Did Coach Canada come to that realization only recently?

Statements from Coach Canada’s spokesperson, John Crowley, are often nonsensical, like “stopping at centres such as Welland on the way”.  Per CC’s web site – and confirmed by one of their drivers –Welland is not on the route between Niagara Falls and Hamilton.  In Welland, Coach Canada competes with Niagara Transit, not GO Transit.  Why didn’t the Hamilton Spectator reporter and editor pick up on this?

Has CC invested in infrastructure, i.e. the bus terminals that they use?  Per their web site, Coach Canada uses GO Transit’s terminal in Hamilton.  In St. Catharines, CC uses the downtown bus terminal, which was paid for by the provincial government.  Coach Canada passengers have ticket agents, protection from the elements, and washroom facilities in St. Catharines, whereas Metrolinx has provided GO Transit passengers NOTHING at the Fairview Mall bus stop.  In reality, CC is being subsidized, too.

Mr. Crowley claims, “We only get revenues from our fares.”  CC is the ticket agent for GO Transit in Niagara Falls.  Is Coach Canada offering this service pro bono to Metrolinx?

Should we be concerned that Coach Canada is meeting with GO Transit to “work out a solution”?  What are Coach Canada and Metrolinx discussing behind closed doors, and how much will “the solution” cost taxpayers?


Anonymous said...

Maybe they are also facing competition from Megabus. You can travel from TO to Niagara Falls for $8-$10 depending on how far in advance you book. They also go to Welland.

Anonymous said...

I am sure CC is subsidized by it's parent company Stagecoach.

Ali Gator said...

Coach Canada and Megabus are both owned by the same parent, Stagecoach Group. On the Coach Canada web site, some ticket searches actually tell you the trip is operated by Megabus.

TomW said...

GO Transit requires all its bus routes to cover their (marginal) operating costs from the farebox, after an initial introductory period.

This means GO's subsidy pays overhead (including garages) and rail operations.

(Also, a lot people ride a GO bus because of the GO Train it take them to.)

Ali Gator said...

I'm from Missouri. I'd like to see the financials for seasonal Route 11. The introductory period for that route ended long ago.

Valentino Assenza said...

I feel for the people of Niagara, because besides Coach Canada they also lost their VIA Rail service to Toronto as well which many people from Niagara Falls and St.Catherines rode into work.

Now they are losing the Coach Canada between Niagara Falls and Hamilton, does this mean the next one to fall is Megabus service from Toronto to Niagara Falls?

I know that GO has plans to expand train service to Grimsby. But, I don't think that is going to happen before 2020, I could be wrong, if anyone else has any other info on this please let me know.

There are currently buses that go from Burlington GO to Niagara on an hourly basis, and the ridership from what I can tell is definitely there.

The less cars there are on the QEW the better, but with transit options disappearing in that neck of the woods, from what I can see thus far it's only going to increase volume.

Shaun said...

Thank you for picking up on this issue; one that has long confused me. First, I will say that since GO first began running to Niagara (2007?) our options for travel have improved. They further improved with the introduction of Niagara Region Transit.

Unfortunately, though, both of these operators offer "coverage" service, with a combination of weird stop locations and indirect routes. CC/Megabus St. Catharines-Toronto route is useful, efficient and has high ridership; it will not give this up any time soon - here the only impediment is traffic. Looking at the schedules you'll note that their service levels don't increase during what you would think are the busiest times of day, and the running times increase. I find my trips at these times unreliable, and interestingly the drivers will sometimes take the 407, covering far more distance to try to save time.

Why CC is opting to cancel Niagara-Hamilton service instead of improve it is beyond me. An express service from downtown St. Catharines to arrive in Hamilton around 6 and 7 am would allow GO train and 407W bus connections in addition to the strict "travel to Hamilton" business. This type of service could compete. Note that the current 85 minute trip is not what I mean by express - CC's running time to Toronto is close to the time it take to do the trip by car, but for some reason to Hamilton it's double.

It could be very true - that CC is cutting its service to try to improve their hand when they go asking support from the province. If this support meant more access for their buses to GO stations and increased local transit to increase their catchment area, I am all for it, even though I would rather see a public operator.