Thunder Bay – BUSINESS – Throughout the pandemic, there have been major strains placed on the transportation sector. This has impacted tourism, and the hotel and motels across the region.
Passenger numbers fell to a point that led to cancellation of service by VIA Rail, Air Canada, Porter Airlines for air travel.
In our region, the air travel for vital cargo and passengers by North Star Air and Wasaya Airways continued.
In Northwestern Ontario bus transportation by Ontario Northland and Kasper Transportation was halted at one point. Service has since resumed but not at the pre-pandemic rates.
The costs of doing business however have continued to rise. Jumps in the cost of gasoline and diesel fuel, major increases in insurance premiums are all putting roadblocks in front of the inter community bus services.
The importance of inter-community bus service in our region is far greater perhaps than understood by most in Queens Park or the House of Commons. Many people travel to Thunder Bay on buses for medical appointments. They may fly in from the north to Sioux Lookout, but have bused in to the city as a final leg of their trip.
When Greyhound stopped service in our region and across Western Canada and later shut down their routes in Southern Ontario, that left many without a safe and reliable means of travel.
The fleet of Greyhound buses is now headed to the auction block.
There is no longer any simple way to travel across Canada by bus. It would take a lot of effort, booking tickets from a number of bus companies, likely having to stay overnight in some communities waiting for connections. Add up the cost and many likely would simply book a plane ticket.
However, there is a group of independent bus operators who have sought to solve that problem.
The Cross Canada Bus Coalition (CCBC) formed as bus company operators and owners of these independent companies started talking last year. Their goal is to find ways to co-ordinate their schedules and routes so that a passenger could travel across Canada by bus again.
One of the needs for this to work is with the massive drop in passenger numbers during the pandemic, they need support from the federal government to first continue operations, and second to help make the service work.
That is an area where the CCBC appears to have made some small inroads, but don’t seem to be reaching the desk of the federal Minister of Transportation.
In a statement to NetNewsLedger from the Transportation Minister, “COVID-19 has had a major financial impact on all modes of transportation, including intercity bus operators, who have continued to see a decline in demand for services. Intercity bus remains important for ensuring the quality of life of many Canadians, particularly those that rely on it for their intercity mobility needs, such as seniors, students, low income individuals, and many people in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities.
“The economic regulation of intercity bus is primarily conducted by the provinces and territories as per the Motor Vehicle Transport Act. As such, the provincial and territorial governments have a lead role to play in developing and administering solutions for the sector. Transport Canada is not currently contemplating any changes to its respective role in the sector. However, we remain willing to engage closely with provincial and territorial partners as they work toward meaningful solutions.
“In response to COVID-19, our Government has announced a number of general emergency support measures for businesses so far, such as the federal wage subsidy, Business Credit Availability Program, and the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund.”
The CCBC says that federal help is needed.
Sources tell NetNewsLedger that interprovincial travel does fall under federal jurisdiction, and that the federal Liberal Rural Caucus is working to effect positive change with this file. Additionally other Members of Parliament are working to make this issue heard.
Inter community bus service is a vital link in the transportation infrastructure in our country, keeping it alive during the pandemic should be a priority.