By Trevor Busch
Transportation options are a serious concern in rural communities, especially as the province’s population ages and with regular bus service non-existent in southern Alberta.
In late July, the province announced $700,000 to set up a privately operated bus service between Medicine Hat and Lethbridge, with stops at nine towns on Highway 3, including Taber and Barnwell. The two-year pilot project was announced at the City of Medicine Hat’s bus barns during a visit by Premier Rachel Notley.
“I think it’s very important overall for sure. I went down to the announcement in Medicine Hat — they invited representatives from all the areas it would affect. That was very well received, and there was lots of good comments and questions about it,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “I think absolutely it’s an important factor there, given the recent announcement by Greyhound who are not looking to supply any service in the south here. That was also factored in.”
Greyhound recently announced it would end Western routes in October, and while the Alberta Transportation program was announced last spring, it will form the basis of a larger strategy to address gaps left by the ailing bus carrier.
“This has been in the works for a while — that Greyhound announcement is fairly recent — they’re not connected, but I guess ironically it helps us out with regard to Greyhound’s announcement,” said Prokop.
The Highway 3 route will expand a public transportation option to 40,000 rural residents, according to a release, including college students and seniors who may need to travel for medical appointments.
“If you make the rounds, there’s lots of people in different situations that just don’t drive,” said Prokop. “So having a bus service from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge with notable stop times for consistency is something that is a positive all the way around for sure.”
Details of the regional service still need to be determined, but could see three-trip daily service on weekdays begin in November, according to transportation officials. Shuttle and coach service along Highway 3 has proved a tough go. Greyhound cut the route years ago to cut costs, and a private operator closed its trips in 2017.
“With the transit system, that’s positive going forward, and it’s going to do nothing but help all the rural areas from Medicine Hat all the way through to Lethbridge,” said Prokop.
Stops are planned for Seven Persons, Burdett, Bow Island, Grassy Lake, Taber, Purple Springs, Barnwell, and Coaldale. It will also track back to Redcliff, where talk of securing regular Medicine Hat Transit routes has circulated for years.