Province looks at financial relief for coach bus industry after indefinite suspension of major Island routes

Province looks at financial relief for coach bus industry after indefinite suspension of major Island routes
Julian Kolsut
Watch After a critical Island bus route connecting remote communities was scrapped due to the pandemic, the province is looking at relief for the coach industry. First Nations say the service's return is critical to ensure their safety. Julian Kolsut has this story.

The provincial government is looking into providing financial relief for the coach bus industry, after the pandemic forced the cancellation of many routes, including those from Tofino Bus and the Vancouver Island Connector.

The two island routes were planning on resuming the long-awaited bus service on Feb. 12., but that’s now suspended indefinitely after revenue fell 95 per cent due to the pandemic.

In 2019, Wilson’s Transportation, who operates Tofino Bus and The Vancouver Island Connector, ran 82,500 bus trips to 29 communities and 21 First Nations and First Nations organizations.

“We had a good conversation today with the lower Island MLA’s including Minister Fleming,” said John Wilson, President and  C.E.O of The Wilson’s Group of Companies.

“They gave us every indication something would be coming in the next seven to ten days. They certainly understand the urgency and essential need for the service.”

Low revenue, paired with payments still needed to be made on busses costing more than half a million dollars, creates a desperate need for funding. And it’s not just this Island link that needs help getting its wheels turning, the pain is being felt all around B.C.

“The industry is 95 per cent down across the province,” said Wilson. “It’s been devastating… to the industry particularly in the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, particularly in the tourism sector.”

Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Rob Fleming, said in a statement that he “recognizes how dire and challenging the situation is for these businesses and how critical service is too remote communities.

He says help could be on the way but didn’t release any details.

“I value the services they provide and I appreciate the continued service of Tofino Bus. I am fully committed to supporting this industry and will share more specific details soon,” said the minister.

First Nations communities are some of the hardest hit.

“[Now] people scramble to find rides to town to get to medical appointments or other essential business they have to do,” said Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.

But the loss of safe, reliable transportation has a much more tragic consequence.

“People get on the highway and hitchhike, and that’s especially a huge issue for our women because we’ve had so many women go missing and murdered. I believe there are around 56 Nuu-chah-nulth women who are unaccounted for,” said Sayers.

Some worry that the routes may not start back up even after the pandemic ends.

READ MORE: Tofino Bus, Vancouver Island Connector service in jeopardy amid COVID-19 struggles

Julian KolsutJulian Kolsut

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