British Columbia

Only bus company connecting North Island communities wants to cancel route

Tofino Bus Services Inc. has applied to the Passenger Transportation Board for permission to cancel the route it operates between Campbell River and Port Hardy.

Tofino Bus Services Inc. asking Passenger Transportation Board for permission to pull out for good

The CEO of Tofino Bus Services Inc. says it can no longer afford to operate its northern route between Campbell River and Port Hardy. (Tofino Bus All Island Express/Facebook)

There is only one bus company that currently runs between the North Island communities of Campbell River and Port Hardy and soon there may be none.

Tofino Bus Services Inc. has applied to the Provincial Transportation Board (PTB) for permission to drop the route, which must be granted before discontinuing service. The company's application cites low ridership and profits as the reasons for axing the once-a-day run.

"It was definitely a pre-COVID issue," said John Wilson, president and CEO of Wilson's Group, which took over Tofino Bus Services in 2018. 

In an interview on All Points West Wednesday, Wilson said the decision to try to pull out is based on 2019 ridership numbers, which he said averaged five people a day from January to December.

The current licence the company has from the PTB means it is required to operate a bus in each direction on that route every day, which includes stops in Sayward, Woss Camp, Port McNeill and the Port Alice Junction.

Route 5 runs along Highway 19 between Campbell River and Port Hardy. Stops in between include the Village of Sayward, Woss Camp, Port McNeill and the Port Alice Junction. (Google Maps)

"We simply cannot operate a business where one of the routes continuously operates at a loss," reads the application to cancel the licence.

Financial information provided in the application shows it cost the company $429,075 to operate the route, while the revenue earned from it was only $255,714, meaning Tofino Bus Services lost $173,361 providing the service in 2019.

But Wilson said a local company based in Port Hardy has expressed interest in taking over the route and, by operating smaller vehicles with less overhead cost, might be able to do so successfully.

"We are happy to connect with them in Campbell River," which is where Tofino Bus Services has a depot that allows people to connect to southern destinations, Wilson said.

Tofino Bus Services Inc. has eliminated bus depots in Courtenay, Parksville and Port Alberni to save money. This Campell River location, at 509 13th Avenue, is still an operating depot where riders can connect to routes headed south. (Vancouver Island Connector & Tofino Bus)

Wilson said the company tried to crunch the numbers and come up with alternatives that could keep his buses serving the North Island, but high overhead costs for the approximately 250 kilometre route made it impossible to find a cost-effective option.

Greyhound operated the entire bus network on Vancouver Island until it stopped serving Western Canada in 2018. 

Wilson said he expects the PTB to give permission for the company to stop serving its northern route.

The application is in the public feedback stage until May 27.

The detailed application from Tofino Bus Services to terminate the route, as well as contact information for anyone wishing to provide feedback, can be found on the PTB's website.

With files from All Points West

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