Tofino Bus, Vancouver Island Connector services to be suspended until May

Wilson's Transportation is pausing its Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector services this week and plans to only offer the bus routes seasonally, from May to October. (Claire Palmer/CBC - image credit)
Wilson's Transportation is pausing its Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector services this week and plans to only offer the bus routes seasonally, from May to October. (Claire Palmer/CBC - image credit)

Two inter-city bus routes on Vancouver Island that connect Victoria, Nanaimo, Campbell River and Tofino, British Columbia with dozens of municipalities and First Nations are being suspended this week.

Wilson's Transportation, the private company that manages the Vancouver Island Connector and Tofino Bus lines, said it can't afford to keep running at a loss when ridership drops significantly in the period after the holidays and before the summer.

The Vancouver Island Connector runs between Campbell River and Nanaimo on the 15th day of each month and had its last trip on Dec. 15. The Tofino Bus runs daily between Victoria and Tofino, with multiple stops including Duncan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni and Ucluelet.

After Tuesday, the two bus routes will be suspended until May, President and CEO John Wilson said, adding the company plans to make a permanent shift to seasonal operations between May and October.

"October, November, right through up to the end of April is a tough time for the numbers on the bus," Wilson told On the Island host Gregor Craigie. "We wind up subsidizing the service ... and post pandemic we just can't afford to do that any more."

He also said his business lost a lot of revenue during the pandemic and the government funds that helped had all been spent.

In a statement, the transportation ministry said it understands post-pandemic travel patterns made things difficult for private transportation providers, but that inter-city bus companies across B.C. received more than $6 million in grants in 2021.

Worried passengers

Vancouverite Tina Akland said the regional bus line is an essential service. She was catching a bus from Nanaimo to Port Alberni, about 110 km north and 200 km northwest of Victoria respectively, to be with family on Monday because her father died recently. Now, she's not sure how she'll be getting back.

"This is a life link," she told CBC, while fighting back tears. "And when I have to see my family later in the year to deal with the details of my dad's passing, I just don't know how I'm going to do it."

Christine Brice agreed. She was travelling from Ucluelet, about 290 km northwest of the capital, to Victoria and back.

"I know plenty of people who try and use the bus regularly, who have either no vehicle or a single vehicle," she said. "It's a very valuable way of getting out of town, connecting with family, [and going to] medical appointments."

Brice said she's concerned about people who may have to travel alone on remote Vancouver Island highways where's there's no cell service. She also wondered why more can't be done to keep the bus service while there's an affordability crisis and the province works to lessen its environmental impact in the face of climate change.

"You don't need it all the time but when you need it, it's very important," Brice said. "It's a private company that provides a public service."

Wilson said private bus companies don't receive the majority of their funding from the government like public transportation providers in larger municipalities.

It was a tough decision to stop offering the service, he said, adding that Wilson's Transportation has explained its situation to B.C.'s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

"We're hoping to hear back from them at the end of the month, to see if it's something they might be looking at subsidizing on a regular basis," he said.

The ministry said it will review the information provided by Wilson's Transportation and look for a solution.