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Tofino Bus intercity bus service to resume Easter weekend

The intercity bus service connects Victoria, Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino
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Wilson’s Transportation Ltd brand manager Samantha Wilson. Tofino Bus service will use two full-sized 56-seat motor coaches equipped with seatbelts, individual reclining seats, luggage space and washrooms. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A Vancouver Island intercity bus service is scheduled to hit the road again on Easter weekend.

Tofino Bus, connecting Victoria, Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino, will start regular service on March 29, according to the Wilson Group of Companies, which is operating the route.

The service will use two full-sized 56-seat motor coaches equipped with seatbelts, individual reclining seats, luggage space and washrooms.

John Wilson, CEO of the Wilson’s Group, said service will grow throughout the spring and summer, with Victoria-to-Tofino travel from Thursday to Sunday, and southbound routes Friday to Monday.

The northbound buses will also carry weekend editions of the Times Colonist.

“We believe this is a vital link to bridging Vancouver Island for residents and visitors,” said Wilson.

The company has no immediate plans to operate the service year-round or link to more communities, such as Campbell River and Port Hardy, as it recovers from losses incurred since the pandemic, he said.

While Tofino Bus provides the same essential service as public transit, it operates without any government subsidies that can offset high operating costs, and ridership is higher in the spring and summer months, said Wilson, adding “our team continues to work with all levels of governments to find increased supports toward vital year-round service.”

In 2019, Wilson’s provided 82,500 trips to 29 communities and 21 First Nations and organizations on Vancouver Island. But COVID 19 travel restrictions saw revenue on those routes drop dramatically, and financial losses for the company started to mount.

Wilson said the company lost $250,000 on the Nanaimo-to-Campbell River route alone, and without government subsidies of some sort, unprofitable routes can’t continue.

He said compounding losses are the main reason Greyhound Canada got out of the intercity routes in 2018.

Wilson said the Tofino Bus service is well used in the peak months by campers and tourism workers in the Tofino and Ucluelet areas, and by others who rely on it for medical appointments and connections to their families.

But he said any revenue gained during the peak months isn’t enough to sustain the service throughout the year.

“I’m born and raised on the Island and to me it’s a special place that I care deeply for … but as a private company we can’t keep taking losses.”

Wilson said the price of coaches has also increased by up to $200,000 since the pandemic and any new orders have to be filled a year or two in advance.

Besides the escalating price of fuel, other expenses like parts, tires and oil have increased between 30% and 50%, he added.

Wilson said ticket prices will increase by about 3% this year.

For schedules and booking, see https://viconnector.com/tofino-bus/

dkloster@timescolonist.com