Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

Wilson’s delays ending North Island, Tofino bus services, citing prospect of government relief

The head of Wilson’s Transportation Group says the company will put on hold plans to cancel some of its Island bus services after a productive meeting with the Ministry of Transportation on Friday.
TC_157638_web_VKA-covid-8108.jpg
Wilson’s Transportation CEO John Wilson says the prospect of a pandemic relief package from the province is enough to keep him from permanently cancelling the company’s Tofino Bus and Island Connector services. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

The head of Wilson’s Transportation Group says the company will put on hold plans to cancel some of its Island bus services after a productive meeting with the Ministry of Transportation on Friday.

John Wilson said the prospect of a pandemic relief package from the province is enough to keep him from permanently cancelling the company’s Tofino Bus and Island Connector services in the North Island region.

“I understand there is a package in the Finance Ministry’s hands and being looked at, and we’re hopeful something may come down the pike in the next two or three weeks,” Wilson said shortly after meeting Transportation Minister Rob Fleming.

Wilson said the meeting convinced him to delay any final decision on service cuts for at least two weeks.

“We want to carry on the service and not just for the one-year subsidy that’s in the proposal, but for years to come,” he said. “But to get there, we need some help now.”

Citing a 95 per cent drop in revenue during the pandemic, the company announced last week that it would not restart the Tofino Bus and Island Connector services this month and might even cancel the services altogether.

Wilson said his company has been shut out of many of the federal and provincial relief programs because of its size and structure, and would no longer be able to cover the cost to operate the routes without help from the province.

Wilson’s has already floated a proposal for a one-year emergency COVID-recovery contract from the Ministry of Transportation to cover operating costs for Tofino Bus and allow it to resume the service.

Wilson said the government understands the challenges the company faces. “They get it, but, as has been said by many people many times, the wheels of government turn slow,” he said. “But it’s still not as slow as my wheels are turning right now.”

The company, which has been loath to take on more debt during the pandemic when it has no income, has suggested the North Island service may be only the first of its divisions to shut down without government help.

Wilson’s airport service has been shuttered since last March, its sightseeing operations have been closed since September and its charter business has been non-existent, as it relies on travel by groups, including sports teams.

According to Wilson, the company is currently only operating two school district contracts in Tofino and Nanaimo, and fulfilling industrial contracts in Campbell River and Ucluelet.

Wilson said he doesn’t like having to ask the government for help. “I’m not used to begging for money — we eat what we kill in this business,” he said. “For 40 years we’ve done our business on our own, even though we consider some of it to be essential, right up there with B.C. Transit.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com