A Friday morning meeting could potentially decide the fate of the Tofino Bus service.
Vancouver Island’s only intercity bus service has not operated since this past December, when it was shut down in order to follow B.C. health regulations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Service was scheduled to resume in January but that was pushed back until this past Friday (Feb. 12).
But officials with The Wilson’s Group of Companies, which operates the Tofino Bus, announced earlier this month that they would not be resuming service unless the company receives a $3 million subsidy from the provincial government.
The Tofino Bus, which services 21 First Nations or organizations as well as 29 communities on Vancouver Island’s west coast, has seen its revenues drop almost 95 per cent since last March, when its service was first shut down because of the pandemic.
Because of the drastic cut in ridership, Samantha Wilson, the brand manager for The Wilson’s Group of Companies, has said the company would be losing money if it were to put its buses back on the road.
That’s why it is appealing to the provincial government for assistance.
“We continue to get stall tactics from the government,” Wilson said during a Wednesday interview. “We have no concrete answers and no funding as of yet.”
Wilson is encouraged, however, by the fact that Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming has agreed to participate in a Friday morning Zoom call with company officials.
“We’re hoping for some good news to come out of it but it’s tough to say,” she said.
Wilson said that Friday’s scheduled meeting is being billed as one “for a potential solution.”
Pressure is indeed mounting for the provincial government to do something concerning the issue with the Tofino Bus, which also operates the Vancouver Island Connector.
Wilson said her company last week sent 32 letters of support it had received, including ones from various First Nations and mayors, to Fleming’s office.
Also sent was a change.org petition with about 10,000 signatures.
That petition, which can be viewed here, https://www.change.org/SaveTofinoBus, had grown to more than 12,000 signatures on Thursday.
The Wilson’s Group of Companies is seeking the $3 million subsidy as a one-year COVID recovery contract.
“With our current passenger counts we are unable to cover the costs for these runs and simply cannot afford to continue to operate these routes,” John Wilson, Samantha’s father and the CEO and president of The Wilson’s Group of Companies wrote in the petition. “This is an extremely difficult decision to make as we are very concerned about the safety of the people who rely on our service. Sadly, we have no other options”.
The Tofino Bus service had provided 82,500 trips during 2019.
Wilson’s officials have been in frequent contact with several First Nations representatives, as well as government officials, to keep them abreast of happenings and what a permanent loss of bus service to their communities would mean.
“We know how important our services are to island First Nations and other communities and we also know the devastating effects the loss of a service like ours can have,” John Wilson said.
Samantha Wilson said the majority of members of the public should be aware of why the Tofino Bus service has not resumed and that a provincial subsidy is being sought.
“We’ve been pretty vocal in the news and in the media,” she said, adding the large number of signatures on the petition indicate many are aware of what is happening and the reasons for it.
In a previous interview with Ha-Shilth-Sa, Samantha Wilson had previously said if a provincial subsidy is indeed given, bus service could be resumed in a fairly quick manner.