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Tofino Bus returning as seasonal service

Victoria-Tofino coach service and Vancouver Island ­Connector service, between Nanaimo and Campbell River, will be back up and running on May 4
Samantha Wilson-Newton, brand manager at Wilson's, said the company is excited to get its Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island ­Connector services back on the road. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

Wilson’s Transportation will bring its Tofino Bus back next month as a seasonal ­service, though the company hopes a deal can still be worked out with the province to ensure it’s re-established as a year-round option.

Wilson’s, which suspended the Victoria-Tofino coach service and the Vancouver Island ­Connector service between Nanaimo and Campbell River on Jan. 3 due to heavy financial losses, will have the services back up and running on May 4.

“We’re happy to be able to get the service back on the road because we know there’s a lot of people who utilize the service and need the service,” said Samantha Wilson-Newton, brand manager at Wilson’s.

“It was disappointing that we had to pause for those few months, but we’re excited to be able to get back on the road.”

Wilson-Newton said discussions with the province about a long-term fix are ongoing.

“There hasn’t been any resolution yet with the province, but we’re still advocating and having those conversations with the hope that there can be a ­solution,” she said.

The problem is cost and the fact small, private companies can’t afford to fill the role of linking the many rural and remote communities in B.C. and across the country that have been isolated since Greyhound stopped operating in the West in 2018.

“Revenue made during our peak season just simply isn’t enough to sustain the service 12 months of the year,” said Wilson-Newton.

“That’s why we had to make the difficult decision to move it to a seasonal service — the ­passenger counts just dropped so drastically in the winter months and there’s increased labour costs and gas prices going up and maintenance costs going up.”

Wilson’s, which acquired Tofino Bus in 2018, got $1.15 million in provincial help to ­maintain essential operations of the Tofino service until the end of March last year. The provincial grant helped get the company to the high ­season when ticket sales start paying the bills.

Dan Law, mayor of Tofino, said he was relieved to see ­Wilson’s bring back the service.

“Reliable, safe and ­affordable transportation to and from the West Coast is essential for local residents, especially youth, ­seniors and vulnerable people who may not have access to ­private vehicles,” Law said.

“Life on the coast can be isolating. Our residents require regular public transportation options in order to reach critical services, including medical and dental care, government offices, the courts and the ­justice ­system.”

Law said the district intends to work with regional governments and the province to solve coastal communities’ public transit problems.

Tofino Bus runs between ­Victoria and Tofino, with stops along the way that include Mill Bay, Cowichan Bay, ­Duncan, ­Chemainus, ­Ladysmith, ­Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni and Ucluelet.

The Vancouver Island ­Connector goes between ­Nanaimo and Campbell River with stops that include ­Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Fanny Bay, Black Creek and Courtenay.

When Wilson’s suspended its Tofino Bus and Island Connector in January, Vancouver-based IslandLinkBus launched a van-based service between Nanaimo and Tofino to fill the void.

IslandLink also runs service between Victoria and Campbell River.

Wilson’s Tofino Bus and ­Vancouver Island ­Connector ­service will re-start with ­weekend service from ­Thursdays to ­Mondays. That schedule will run in May, with the intention of ramping up to a daily service by the start of June.

“We expect to see lower ­passenger counts to start, ­however, we typically see a rise around the May long weekend which lasts throughout most of the summer,” said Wilson-Newton. “We will, of course, continue to monitor the load demands and add more runs as needed.”

Wilson’s operates a ­number of other bus services, ­including links between ­Victoria, Vancouver and Vancouver ­airport, Whistler, Kelowna and ­Kamloops.

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