Island bus company Wilson’s Transportation Ltd. grows in Vancouver

A deal to establish Lower Mainland office space and a working yard for Wilson’s Transportation Ltd. has evolved into Wilson’s establishing a new service on the mainland and partnership in a Vancouver firm.

“I think it all just happened out of each other,” said chief executive John Wilson of a three-pronged transaction that has made Wilson’s a partner in Vancouver-based Landsea Tours.

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Wilson’s Transportation, which operates the B.C. Ferries Connector service and charter buses on the mainland, initially partnered with Landsea in the fall to establish an office, yard and shop in Richmond.

Wilson said that led them into discussion about a partnership to start a hop-on-hop-off tour service in Vancouver, and finally into a co-ownership deal for the 34 year-old Landsea Tours.

Wilson said it’s a strategic move for Wilson’s Transportation as it gives them a hop-on-hop-off brand in Vancouver, and cuts their costs to establish a maintenance yard on the mainland. “That body of water can be cumbersome when you’re trying to operate on both sides,” he said.

Wilson said with its hop-on-hop-off service in Victoria under the Gray Line banner they can now sell the product to tour wholesalers on both sides of the water.

“The partnership with Landsea, a well-established, sight-seeing company made a lot of sense, there’s good synergy for both companies,” said Wilson.

The new product in the mix will be a hop-on service in Vancouver that will use four, 81-seat Van Hool double-decker buses. Wilson’s Transportation has exclusive rights to the buses in B.C.

Wilson said because of overhead wires in Vancouver, they cannot use open-top buses, and instead the vehicles will be configured with glass roofs with glass that can be popped out in good weather.

The buses are new and will not be coming out of the existing Wilson’s Transportation fleet.

Wilson said they intend to start with four vehicles and one highway coach and eventually expand to eight buses by 2020.

The partnership between Wilson’s Transportation and Landsea was triggered by the retirement of Landsea founder Scott Mason.

Landsea’s Kevin Pearce has stepped up to take a larger ownership role in the company.

“I am extremely excited about working with John on a shared vision for Landsea Tours, which includes new service possibilities and collaborations for the betterment of all visitors to our region,” Pearce said in a statement.

The new partnership adds to the Wilson Group of Companies, which expanded significantly in 2018. Last year the Wilson family acquired the Tofino Bus Company, just weeks after the Wilson Group of Companies stepped in to cover some of the routes abandoned by Greyhound Canada on B.C.’s mainland.

Wilson’s is the Island’s largest charter transportation company with 140 vehicles on the road.

It operates a bus charter business, Gray Line Sightseeing in Victoria, an airport shuttle service in Victoria, the B.C. Ferries Connector and twice-daily runs from Vancouver to Kelowna and Vancouver to Kamloops.

Wilson said he wasn’t looking for more responsibility to add to his plate, but he liked the opportunity to step into an existing business and have an owner-operator in place to handle the day-to-day operations.

“The key is some great people and partners. We would never have entered this without Kevin in ownership. He’s a key piece to continue to operate and grow the business over there.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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