Greyhound Canada has responded to a complaint after a stranded passenger in Burns Lake was advised by an agent of one of the bus company's call centres to hitchhike to catch up to the Prince George-bound bus.
Grant Odsen, regional manager of passenger service for Greyhound Canada, said the company will pursue disciplinary action against the Texas-based customer service representative as well as the bus driver who left behind Evelynn Williams, who was using a restaurant washroom during a rest stop and missed reboarding the bus Jan. 4 in Burns Lake.
"Obviously, we are deeply concerned about it, and we certainly apologize to Ms. Williams and the unfortunate incident she's had to go through," said Odsen.
"We're not about to authorize any employee or a contract personnel to advise anybody to be hitchhiking. Certainly it's not the service we would expect our employees to be giving and certainly Greyhound has not and is not about to be recommending that any customer of ours is hitchhiking on the Highway of Tears, or some other location, and we are taking steps to ensure that's never done again."
Otherwise known as Highway 16, the road which connects Prince George to Burns Lake and Prince Rupert has gained notoriety because it is connected with the unexplained disappearances of numerous women over the past four decades. Many of the missing women were last seen hitchhiking.
Greyhound has launched an investigation into the incident which involves its senior manager of national customer service. Williams was so shocked to receive the agent's advice she asked for and received her employee number, which has helped the company track down the source.
"From my understanding, Ms. Williams was talking to a staff member in a customer service office that I believe is not an employee of Greyhound," Odsen said. "We've got call centres that provide information and the people responsible for that area of business are looking into that right now. We want to identify who might have been saying something like that. We're taking it seriously right up to the highest level. We will take the action we feel is necessary to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Greyhound requires its drivers to do head counts at each stop to make sure no passenger gets left behind and Odsen is convinced the driver who rolled into Burns Lake with Williams aboard failed to do that.
"The two issues are not something we expect out of our employees in either case," Odsen said. "Certainly we expect our drivers to do head counts and that was the first mistake. The driver has been identified and we will be going through the disciplinary process with him on that."
Odsen said the severity of sanctions against the driver could range from a disciplinary letter to dismissal, depending on how his explanation weighs against the facts the company has gathered.
Williams went to the Prince George Greyhound terminal a week after the trip and reported the incident to regional agency manager Lyn Potts. Potts encouraged her to file a formal written complaint and promised Williams the company would refund the full price of her ticket from Prince Rupert and would reimburse her friend the gas money spent to make a round trip from Prince George to pick Williams up that night in Burns Lake.
As in many small towns, there is no bus terminal in Burns Lake. Greyhound picks up and drops off passengers and freight at other established businesses, which most often are open only during the daytime. According to Williams, the driver announced to his passengers he was stopping for five or 10 minutes. Williams said she left for six minutes to use the washroom of a nearby grocery store when she came out to see the bus rolling down the street a block away. Odsen has yet to speak to the driver but said he has no reason to doubt Williams's version of the story.
In the case of stranded passengers, Odsen said the company will try to make alternate travel arrangements to get them to their intended destination that day.
"Normally, in a situation where somebody had been inadvertently left behind at a stop we would normally pay for other transportation to get them in, whatever happens to be available," he said. "There is a [taxi] cab in Burns Lake and had we known we would have tried to procure the cab to take her in."