Help is on the way.
But it remains to be seen just how quickly that assistance will arrive and when the Tofino Bus, Vancouver Island’s only intercity bus service, will resume operations.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Premier John Horgan announced motor coach operators in the province, who have suffered tremendous revenue losses due to a massive drop in ridership in the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, would collectively be receiving $10.7 million from the B.C. government.
Representatives from the Wilson’s Group of Companies, which runs the Tofino Bus service, announced in early February that they would not be able to continue on without a $3 million provincial subsidy.
The Tofino Bus services 21 First Nations or organizations as well as 29 communities on Vancouver Island’s west coast.
In order to better fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the service has been shut down a couple of times in the past year, most recently in December.
Those regulations were lifted on Feb. 12, but Wilson’s reps had stated their buses would not be on the road again unless provincial financial assistance was forthcoming, to assist the company with its loss in ridership it has faced in the past year.
John Wilson, the president and CEO of the Wilson’s Group of Companies, took part in Tuesday’s news conference.
He was thrilled to see the provincial government step up and provide funding to those in his industry.
“Today is filled with a sense of overwhelming gratitude and relief by the intercity ground
transportation sector across the province and, most importantly, by the members of our rural,
remote and Indigenous communities that rely on these services,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s company has ensured provincial officials have been kept abreast of their struggles. The company launched a petition, which garnered more than 12,000 signatures, asking the province to provide some financial relief.
A few dozen letters from mayors, Chiefs from various First Nations as well as other elected officials were also sent to provincial reps on Wilson’s behalf.
“My team and I have worked tremendously hard in our advocacy efforts to shed light on the devastating losses that has left many in the ground transportation sector drowning financially,” Wilson said. “Today’s grant announcement is the life raft many in the intercity bus sector have been hoping for.”
Horgan was well aware of motor coach struggles throughout the province as people had been staying close to home during the pandemic, thus greatly affecting intercity bus services.
“These operators have seen a drastic decline in their revenues as a result of people staying in place but they’ve stayed in place themselves,” Horgan said. “They’ve hung in for the interest of the people in the region and the interest of the people of British Columbia.”
The goal is to have Tuesday’s funding announcement assist motor coach operators for the next year.
“I’m hoping this contribution today will help them get through the next number of months as we build recovery with everybody in mind as we go into the fall and into 2022,” Horgan said.
Tuesday’s announcement included an additional $16 million in funding for regional airports throughout British Columbia.
“The intention is to have all the money out the door, that has been announced today, the $27 million, by March 31,” said Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming.
Companies must submit an application in order to secure a share of the funding.
“We will flow the money immediately,” Fleming said. “We’re beginning the application period today. We’ll work with companies. It’s a simple, very efficient grant application process so companies will be able to take advantage of this almost immediately and make operational plans.”
Wilson’s was expected to file its application yesterday.
Like Horgan, Fleming said lending a hand to motor coach operators and those running regional airports is vital.
“Making sure that British Columbians have access to essential services is important to our government, especially since we continue to go through the challenges of COVID-19,” Fleming said.
Fleming added he was pleased with the details of the funding announcement.
“We’ve identified a significant gap here today for some businesses that were particularly exposed to travel restrictions during this pandemic,” he said. “They needed our help. We’ve worked with them collaboratively to provide that.”
Wilson’s officials are now waiting to see if they will receive the $3 million grant they requested or a portion of that.
Samantha Wilson, the company’s brand manager, had previously said the service might not return at full capacity if the business received less than what it was asking for from the government.
That means Wilson’s could have fewer buses on the road or possibly not even operate its service seven days a week as it did previously.
Though no official restart date for service was given yesterday, John Wilson said he was hopeful the Tofino Bus service would be back up and running by the first week of April.
“We look forward to continuing to serve the communities of British Columbia for many years to come,” he added.