In the absence of inter-city bus service to the west coast of the Island, IslandLinkBus will launch a van-based service between Nanaimo and Tofino starting Jan. 30.
Vancouver-based IslandLink, which currently provides service between Victoria and Campbell River on the east coast of the Island, says it will start the service with three trips per week at the end of this month.
“We’ve looked at the numbers, and with our 15-passenger vehicles, we’re able to add this service,” said owner Phillip Morgan.
The new service follows a decision by Wilson’s Transportation to suspend its Victoria-Tofino coach service and the Vancouver Island Connector service between Nanaimo and Campbell River on Jan. 3 due to heavy financial losses. The company says it plans to restart its Tofino Bus services in May.
Morgan initially said his company was not going to change its service plans when Wilson pulled the plug on Tofino Bus.
The new IslandLink route will run between the Departure Bay Ferry Terminal in Nanaimo and Tofino, with stops in Port Alberni and Ucluelet. Starting May 18, it plans to ramp up to daily service year-round.
At press time, IslandLink had not yet announced which days it would run between Nanaimo and Tofino.
Tofino Mayor Dan Law called the announcement by IslandLink extremely promising news.
“We’ll look forward to seeing the actual details of the service. But certainly IslandLink should be commended for stepping into the breach,” he said. “This is a critical need for coastal residents. It’s a service that really does meet the needs of a very vulnerable population.”
Law said this is not a long-term fix, however, and there is still more work to be done for rural and remote communities in B.C. and across the country, which have been isolated since Greyhound stopped operating in the west in 2018.
“This will give senior levels of government time to more fully address the critical public transportation needs of our remote communities,” Law said. “Clearly this is an interim measure that helps out, but there is a larger critical issue that that has to be addressed.”
John Wilson, president of Wilson’s Transportation, said the IslandLink service is not a replacement for Tofino Bus or the Island Connector coach service he suspended, nor is it a long-term solution. “It doesn’t really solve the problem that we’ve been advocating to the government about, about these rural communities. It’s basically solving a transportation link between Nanaimo and Tofino,” he said.
Wilson has been in discussions with the province about a longer-term solution, but there’s been no word on what that might look like. The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure has said it’s reviewing information provided by Wilson’s and will look for a workable solution.
In March 2021, Tofino Bus got $1.15 million in provincial help to maintain essential operations until the end of March 2022. Wilson said the provincial grant helped get them to the high season when ticket sales started paying the bills.
Wilson said they intend to restart the Tofino Bus and Island Connector services in May, when there is enough demand to justify the expense of running large coaches on the routes.
“But we can’t operate at the current model,” he said, adding operating motor coaches ramps up the overhead cost compared with smaller 15-passenger vans.