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Island's only west-coast inter-city bus service to be suspended in January

Citing heavy financial losses, Wilson’s Transportation says it will suspend its Tofino Bus operations, including the Vancouver Island Connector, for four months starting in January.
Wilson's Transportation CEO John Wilson. ADRIAN LAM, TIMES COLONIST

Citing heavy financial losses, Wilson’s Transportation says it will suspend its Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector operations for four months starting in January.

Purchased by Wilson’s in 2018, Tofino Bus provides the Island’s only west-coast inter-city bus ­service, offering transportation to 29 communities and 21 First Nations.

Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector service are to be suspended Jan. 3 and resume in May.

Saying he had no other option, Wilson’s president John Wilson said the company will ­consider operating the routes as a ­seasonal service.

“We’ve been going back and forth contemplating this for a bit,” said Wilson. “We’ve just been bleeding [money] in the fall and the start of the winter here.”

Wilson said there is typically a boost in ridership during the holiday season, but January is one of the slowest months on the calendar. “We just can’t afford to subsidize services like that,” he said.

Tofino Bus runs between ­Victoria and Tofino, with stops at communities in between, ­including Mill Bay, Cowichan Bay, Duncan, Chemainus, ­Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni and Ucluelet.

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

“We are very concerned about the safety of the people who rely on our service. Sadly, we have no other options,” said Wilson.

In March 2021, Tofino Bus got $1.15 million in provincial help to maintain essential ­operations until the end of March of this year. Wilson’s had shut the service down ­earlier in the pandemic as the bus ­transportation sector lost about 95 per cent of its business.

Wilson said the provincial grant helped get the company to the high season, when ticket sales started paying the bills.

“We were able to run it ­basically at a break-even level until early into the spring of 2022,” he said. “So we’re looking seriously at making it a seasonal service through September.”

Wilson said he discussed the suspension of service with the province, but even if they came back to the table to provide funding to keep it running, it would take time.

“They’re having their conversations internally, but I don’t know where that’s going to land and we certainly know it’s not going to land quickly,” Wilson said.

“We couldn’t afford to carry on in January and February continuing to lose the money at the rate we were losing it.”

In a statement sent to the Times Colonist, the province’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said it ­understands these are difficult times for private transport operators as they adjust to ­post-pandemic travel patterns and travel demand.

“We are reviewing the information [Wilson’s] have provided to better understand the issue and changes to the services they provide, and will continue to look for a workable solution,” the statement said.

Wilson said if there is some relief funding available, the ­service can be back up and ­running immediately.

The bus is used by tourists in the summer months, but Wilson said a lot of staff working on the west coast of the Island also use it to get back and forth, as well as campers, surfers and locals.

“It’s the connective tissue to medical appointments and Christmas shopping, family,” he said.

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

Any passengers who have pre-purchased tickets for Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector who will be affected by the decision will be contacted by a member of Wilson’s staff.

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