Ontario Transit

A good truck stop doesn’t make for a good bus stop

Ontario’s newest bus stop — a truck stop on the southern edge of London — may also be its worst.

Following Greyhound Canada’s inevitable final departure, several other companies have begun to take over Greyhound’s busiest routes in Ontario and Quebec.

In May, Megabus Canada began service between Toronto, Kingston, and Ottawa, operating out of the new Union Station Bus Terminal. Megabus’ terminal in Ottawa is the St. Laurent Shopping Centre, with easy connections to Ottawa’s O-Train LRT and several bus routes.

In June, Rider Express, a new intercity carrier based out of Western Canada (where it picked up many of Greyhound’s abandoned routes there), began operating its own Toronto-Kingston-Ottawa route, in competition with Megabus.

Québec-based Orleans Express took over Greyhound’s former Ottawa-Montréal route, joining Ontario Northland and Rider Express at the Ottawa VIA Station. The VIA Station, like St. Laurent, offers a safe, enclosed waiting area, passenger amenities, and easy connections to the O-Train LRT.

While Ottawa has many options for getting to and from Toronto: VIA Rail, Megabus, Rider Express, and two frequent airlines, connections to other cities and towns are limited at best. Ontario Northland’s single daily bus from Sudbury and North Bay through Renfrew County arrives in Ottawa in the late evening, a time not convenient for most passengers. Commuter routes to nearby communities such as Perth, Carleton Place, and Cornwall remain suspended during the ongoing pandemic.

But at least there’s some bus service again, providing new capacity on some of Canada’s busiest intercity routes.

On Thursday, July 15, intercity coach service returns to Southwestern Ontario, with a new Toronto-London service operated through a partnership between Megabus and St. Thomas-based Badder Bus. The route will run non-stop twice daily between the Flying J Truck Stop at Highway 401 and Highbury Avenue and the Union Station Bus Terminal in Downtown Toronto.

Unfortunately, the Flying J truck stop, while convenient for truckers and other motorists, is a terrible place for a bus stop. The map below illustrates the truck stop’s location, on the southeastern outskirts of London.

The truck stop was likely chosen for its proximity to Badder Bus’ operations centre in nearby St. Thomas, and for the space available to park and load a bus in the RV/trailer parking area. The truck stop operates 24 hours, with an on-site convenience store, washrooms, and restaurant, so there are amenities for bus drivers and waiting passengers.

Unfortunately, Megabus and Badder Bus could not pick a less accessible place to catch a bus. The truck stop is surrounded by warehouses, light industry, and agricultural lands. Highbury Avenue is a high-speed highway connecting Highway 401 and central London, with a 100 km/h speed limit. Pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited from using Highbury Avenue (which, until the 1990s, was provincial Highway 126). There are no sidewalks leading south to Wilton Grove Road.

Looking north on Highbury Avenue towards Highway 401, with the Flying J truck stop on the right. Note no sidewalks — pedestrians and cyclists are prohibited from Highbury Avenue at and north of the 401. (Google Streetview – April 2021)

The only transit route within walking distance is London Transit Route 30, a rush-hour only service that serves the industrial area south of Highway 401. Downtown London is easily a 45 minute bus ride (when route 30 is operating), and Western University — a major market for Greyhound when it operated — is over an hour away by bus or a $50 taxi ride. Ironically, the northern outskirts of St. Thomas — that city remains disconnected to nearby London — are closer to the Flying J than Western University.

The Greyhound Terminal in downtown London, two blocks from the VIA Station. At its peak in the 1980s, the terminal served Greyhound, Gray Coach, Erie Coach, and Cha-Co Coach, with buses departing for Toronto, Detroit, Niagara Falls, Buffalo, and cities and towns throughout Southwestern Ontario. (Google Streetview – January 2021)

Greyhound Canada operated out of a terminal in Downtown London, two blocks west of the VIA Rail station. Greyhound shared its building with other carriers in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, including Gray Coach, Cha-Co Trails, and Erie Coach Lines. From Downtown London, there were direct buses to Toronto, Detroit, Niagara and Buffalo, and cities and towns throughout Western Ontario. The terminal was a short walk to nearly all of London Transit’s bus routes, making connections to Western University, Fanshawe College, and the major hospitals easy.

Choosing a truck stop at the far edge of town, nearly inaccessible by public transit reminds me of the final years of Greyhound’s operations in Western Canada. Greyhound abandoned downtown terminals in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Regina, and Saskatoon in favour of new stops in outlying area.

In Edmonton, the downtown Greyhound terminal was expropriated for a new hockey arena, but Greyhound moved for the VIA station in the city’s northwest, which had no public transit access. (Red Arrow, a competing coach operator, maintained a downtown office and stop). In Regina, Greyhound moved from the downtown STC terminal to the airport, which has no public transit connection, and in Saskatoon, Greyhound moved to a truck stop — similar to London’s Flying J — in the northern outskirts of that city. It was clear that Greyhound Canada had no interest in attracting customers and was planning for an eventual withdrawal.

Given Greyhound’s experience, why would a new carrier choose such a poor location for an intercity bus stop, especially in a city as large and important as London? The terminal need not even be in Downtown London to be a major improvement; a stop at White Oaks Mall, just one interchange to the west at Wellington Street, would provide good local transit connections to Downtown London and even Western University while remaining close to the highway.

For now, Ontario’s newest bus stop might also be its worst bus stop.

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