DRL to suspend Newfoundland bus service amid COVID concerns, low ridership

·2 min read
DRL Coach Lines will suspend its cross-Newfoundland bus service following the completion of a partial run on Saturday because of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the St. John's region, and a ridership that has all but evaporated.
DRL Coach Lines will suspend its cross-Newfoundland bus service following the completion of a partial run on Saturday because of an outbreak of COVID-19 in the St. John's region, and a ridership that has all but evaporated.

(CPTDB.ca - image credit)

With its employees nervous about a COVID-19 outbreak in St. John's, and ridership plummeting, Triton-based DRL Coach Lines has decided to suspend its cross-island bus service after it completes a partial run on Saturday.

"We feel we should cease operations for safety reasons for employees and the risk of being involved with the volatility there now of the current situation in the greater Mount Pearl-St. John's area," Jason Roberts, general manager of DRL, told CBC News on Friday afternoon.

Roberts said 28 employees are being notified that they will be temporarily laid off.

The service had been operating at about 70 per cent of its normal ridership for the past year because of the pandemic, with the company taking a big financial hit, said Roberts.

But a sudden and unprecedented spike in COVID-19 cases this week has resulted in a series of strict public health measures aimed at halting the spread of the virus, including advisories for residents of the Avalon Peninsula against travelling to other regions of the province.

With roughly 90 per cent of all DRL customers either originating in or travelling to the St. John's area, Roberts said, ridership has all but evaporated.

But he said the No. 1 reason for the suspension is the safety of his employees, and to prevent helping spread the virus.

"Right now everyone is really antsy, and not just our employees. We have employees at locations where we stop … who are nervous about who is coming and going. And I think in the best interest of our employees [we will] cease the service tomorrow," he said.

DRL is a private company that offers a daily service, with buses starting out each morning in Port aux Basques and St. John's, and travelling across the island, with regular stops along the way. The service has been operating for a quarter-century.

But Roberts said both buses will end their runs in Grand Falls-Windsor on Saturday, at roughly the halfway point.

He said the company will reassess the situation weekly, but he expects it will be another year before DRL will begin turning a profit again.

"This business has not been viable since March. We have hundreds of thousand of dollars gone into this," said Roberts, adding he is "determined to keep going."

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