Government Subsidies on Transportation Need Balance – Says Kasper Transportation CEO
THUNDER BAY – Minister Greg Rickford announced expanded service for the Ontario Northland Transportation Corporation in Fort Frances on Tuesday. The decision according to the CEO of Kasper Transportation represents a completely different message than ONTC, and the Ontario Government has been talking about over the past three years.
Starting in 2017, the then Liberal Government announced a plan that would have seen ONTC working with private bus companies to ensure better bus service in Western Ontario. The move came when Greyhound ended service to the region.
Kasper Transportation, which has been in business for five years, was part of that announcement and started working with the ONTC and the Ontario Government to put together a plan where passengers would benefit from improved intercommunity bus service.
The work on that plan, states Wabinski has been a long effort with ONTC and the Ontario Government through a number of agencies including the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation have been ongoing.
“Last week, NOHFC contacted our office and asked for an update so that work on our application for funding could move forward,” says Wabinski.
“I am responsible for forty people’s jobs and there are another fifty people who work in companies in our city who our company supports. It is hard to figure out why despite all the work and the promises from ONTC and the Ontario Government why now they are steamrollering over our family-owned company.”
“On May 2, 2020, after COVID-19 hit our company hard, and we saw passenger numbers fall to 15 percent of the previous numbers, we suspended service,” stated Wabinski. “Then a few days later, ONTC started to run on the route”.
Wabinski says that ONTC operates with taxpayers massively subsidizing the company. In their last financial reporting period, ONTC ran at a $62 million deficit.
This subsidy along with the fact that ONTC does not have to follow the same rules as privately run bus companies are not fair says the bus service operator.
Starting May 17, 2020, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) will begin permanent intercommunity bus service from White River to Thunder Bay with three return trips per week. The agency will also provide a new permanent intercommunity bus service from Thunder Bay to Winnipeg, starting May 18, 2020, with two return trips per week.
“People in Northern Ontario deserve access to safe and reliable public transportation that connects them to employment opportunities, medical appointments and other essential services,” said Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation. “Our government is working closely with the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission to fill the recent gap in the Northwest.”
NetNewsLedger asked the Ministry of Transportation, under the leadership of Minister Caroline Mulroney about this issue.
The questions asked were:
- How much money has Ontario spent on the expanded ONTC routes into Western Ontario since the service from White River to Winnipeg started?
2. How many new jobs in Western Ontario has this expansion created?
3. Has the service been operating at a profit or a loss?
A spokesperson for the Minister says, “The Ontario government is committed to delivering safe and reliable public transportation for the people of Northern Ontario. We recently introduced new bus routes to connect passengers to the communities of Atikokan, Fort Frances, and Emo.
“This new route provides passengers with more convenient connections and direct stops that will connect passengers to jobs, hospitals and other much needed essential services in the Northwest.
“Our government also understands the important role that the intercommunity bus sector plays in providing transportation services to the people of Ontario, including those in the north. We will continue to work with our partners in this sector as we continue to review transportation initiatives that will help us to develop a modern and sustainable transportation system in Northern Ontario.
“Our government introduced Ontario’s Action Plan: Responding to COVID-19 to provide support for people and businesses. We encourage inter-community bus carriers across the province to explore the federal and provincial funding programs that have been put in place to support businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Tackling COVID-19 challenges continues to be a problem that is national in scope. We encourage the federal government to continue partnering with us to addresses these challenges. We remain committed to maintaining strong local, regional and national transportation services.”
There has been a lot of work and effort put forward to put together a solid and viable intercommunity bus network for the north.
The new routes and the expansion of the routes are offering additional choices for consumers.
However, Kasper Transportation believes once the Ontario Government starts looking at the cost of the new service, it is likely those routes will be trimmed or cut. Wabinski says that the average ticket subsidy that Ontario taxpayers are putting in on each ticket is as much as $248.
Wabinski states as a private company, he has to run at a profit, and margins are slim enough in the transportation sector, especially now under COVID-19.
“At a bare minimum, Ontario Northland should be mandated to operate at a break-even basis,” states Wabinski. “The Ontario Government should not be subsidizing ONTC when there is already a private company operating.”
Wabinski now feels that the Ontario Government under Premier Doug Ford has simply been blowing smoke and not doing any of the needed work. “The federal government has been doing all the real heavy lifting to help business over the past months,” asserts Wabinski.
Asked what support he has received from Ontario, Wabinski states “Nothing”.
The team at Kasper Transportation feels that the Premier needs to get more involved in what his government is doing in the region. “Perhaps one of the problems is that the Premier has put too much responsibility into Minister Rickford’s hands,” states Wabinski.
Kenora MPP Greg Rickford holds three portfolios in the Ford Government; Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Indigenous Affairs.
While the ONTC file was under Minister Rickford in May when the service started, the responsibility for ONTC was shifted to the Ministry of Transport under Minister Caroline Mulroney. >However, all of the announcements, for service have been made by Minister Rickford.
All of this is not sitting well with Wabinski and his team at Kasper Transportation.
“Thunder Bay is being largely ignored,” states Wabinski. “Minister Rickford seems to feel that Kenora is the centre of the universe, and is putting all of the region’s eggs in Kenora’s basket”.
Minister Rickford says, “I am proud to deliver on a promise to bring safe and reliable passenger bus service to the people in Kenora-Rainy River. The people of Northwestern Ontario deserve affordable bus transportation, as the people in Northeastern Ontario have received from the ONTC for years”.
“We know there is room to grow to ensure we have a cohesive bus network in the northwest. Our government will continue to work closely with private carriers, including Kasper Transportation, to build a robust passenger transportation network across the north,” continues Minister Rickford.
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