Outpouring of support has Tofino bus operator optimistic about future as risk of closure looms
VICTORIA -- The Vancouver Island-based Wilson's Group says its hopeful about the future of its intercity bus services following an outpouring of support from community members and local government leaders.
The company, which operates the Tofino Bus and Vancouver Island Connector bus routes, had to suspend operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic. On Feb. 2, Wilson's Group said it would be extending its service suspension and said it was at a risk of permanently closing.
"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 at the time.
"This is an extremely difficult decision to make as we are very concerned about the safety of the people who rely on our service," he said. "Sadly, we have no other options."
Since then, the company says it has received more than 40 letters of support for the bus service, including messages from local mayors, First Nations leaders, organizations and customers.
Meanwhile, an online petition calling for support of the bus operator has garnered more than 12,000 signatures in a little over two weeks.
The widespread support has Wilson's management optimistic about the future.
"We continue to be in positive discussions with Minister Fleming around a solution to the issues we are facing," said Wilson in a statement Thursday.
"While we continue to wait for exact details from the provincial government, we are feeling optimistic about being able to resume some sort of service as we head into the spring season," he said.
On Feb. 2, B.C. Transportation Minister Rob Fleming told CTV News that the province was working on supporting bus operators across British Columbia.
"We're in communication with the industry, and have met with Wilson’s several times to understand their concerns," he said. "I remain committed to working with the sector and our federal counterparts to reach solutions."
In 2019, Wilson's completed 82,500 trips on Vancouver Island to 29 different island communities and 21 First Nations and Indigenous organizations.
Since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, the company's revenue has plummeted 95 per cent.
The loss of income threatens to shutter the business, something many smaller communities and island First Nations say would be a blow to the region.
"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 Judith Sayers, Nuu‐chah‐nulth Tribal Council president on Feb. 2. "We must ensure they have safe transportation to get to their essential destinations, so we have no more murdered and missing sisters."
For now, the Wilson's Group is hanging on and looking at the rest of the year with optimism.
"On behalf our company and my family, I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who continues to show their support during these difficult times," said Wilson.
"We truly do live in one of the most special places in the world and we look forward to continuing to serve and give back to these communities for many years to come."