VICTORIA -- An intercity bus service on Vancouver Island has been suspended and may close permanently due to revenue lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Wilson’s Group of Companies operates Tofino Bus and the Vancouver Island Connector, crucial transportation links for communities on the island’s north and west coasts.

The company said Tuesday that the service would not resume on Feb 12 as previously scheduled and may even close permanently.

The service provided 82,500 trips between 29 island communities and 21 First Nations in 2019, according to the company. The COVID-19 pandemic and related travel restrictions have cut revenue on those routes by 95 per cent since March 2020, the company says.

“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,” said president John Wilson. “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.”

Nuu‐chah‐nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers says the loss of the bus service poses a safety risk for the community, particular women and girls.

“We have witnessed this on the Highway of Tears, and we know that there is still a number of Nuu‐chah‐nulth women who are still missing,” said Sayers. “We must ensure they have safe transportation to get to their essential destinations, so we have no more murdered and missing sisters.”

The company is calling on the provincial government to support the business as an essential service.

“There is a similar subsidy model in place to ensure public safety along the Highway of Tears in Northern B.C.,” Wilson said.

“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.”  

In a statement, Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Rob Fleming told CTV News that the province is aware of the challenges bus operators have faced during the pandemic.

“We understand that inter-city bus providers – like many other businesses in B.C. – are struggling during the pandemic,” said Fleming. “I recognize how dire and challenging the situation is.”

“We're in communication with the industry, and have met with Wilson’s several times to understand their concerns. I remain committed to working with the sector and our federal counterparts to reach solutions,” he said.

Fleming adds that the provincial and federal governments have been working together to establish financial relief programs for the motor coach industry.

“We will continue to work on supporting the sector to recover from pandemic-induced financial stress,” he said.