Sudbury·Audio

Public-private partnership expands bus service in northern Ontario

A partnership between Ontario Northland and Thunder Bay-based Kasper Transportation will see the northeast get public bus service, while a private carrier will cover the northwest.

Greyhound says it will be hard to run private bus service in northern Ontario without public dollars

Thunder Bay-based Kasper Transportation is now offering bus services across northwestern Ontario and into Manitoba. (Twitter)

A partnership between Ontario Northland and Thunder Bay-based Kasper Transportation will see the northeast get public bus service, while a private carrier will cover the northwest.

Ontario Northland is expanding its routes to run to Sault Ste. Marie and Wawa for the first time, while Kasper is adding new stops in Kenora, Hearst and White River — to go with its existing routes serving Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout and points in between.

"There are so many communities that aren't connected and we're aiming to change that," says Kasper general manager Ted Moyle.

That partnership with Northland will see the two coach companies co-ordinate their schedules so passengers can transfer from one service to the other at stations in White River and Hearst.

Moyle says by using 11-seat mini-buses, Kasper can serve small communities at one third the cost of companies with large motorcoaches, such as Greyhound and Northland.

"I think we can make a go of it quite well," says Moyle.

But he says Kasper wouldn't refuse government dollars to subsidize some of the slower routes.

"We'd love it if we could," says Moyle.

"We're a private company and we have to look at the economics of the routes."

Greyhound says its daily route from Toronto to Winnipeg through northern Ontario isn't viable in the short-term or the long-term. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

A third bus carrier serving the north is Greyhound, which has cut back on local routes and now does a daily run from Toronto to Winnipeg, with stops in the region.

"It's a tough market right now," says senior vice-president Stuart Kendrick. 

"The ridership levels are low. We have routes now that aren't viable long-term or short-term."

Kendrick says the provincial government has included Greyhound in discussions about a rural transportation plan for the north, which he welcomes to fill a definite "need" in northern towns and cities.

"But without some sort of subsidy, it's going to be tough for any carrier to make a go of it," he says.

"It's very difficult to maintain service strictly off the fare box."

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