Merritt Shuttle Bus Service plans to step up to fill part of the transportation gap in the region, now that Greyhound has ceased almost all of its bus services in western Canada as of Oct. 31. The company has announced it will be running thrice-weekly services (Monday/Wednesday/Friday) from Merritt to Spences Bridge and up the Highway 1/97 corridor to Prince George. On the same days, it will also be operating a service from Merritt to Spences Bridge and down the Fraser Canyon to Langley.
The company has been approved to operate inter-city bus service (by reservation only) through six routes in total. It will also run routes from Lower Nicola to Kamloops, from Kamloops to Highland Valley, from Merritt to Highland Valley, and from Merritt to Kelowna.
Company co-owner Gene Field says that they have not yet secured a place in Cache Creek to stop, but hopes to use one or both of the Husky and Chevron stations on the Prince George run. He adds that the company is also investigating the possibility of picking up and dropping off in Ashcroft, noting that a site at a gas station would be ideal. “People can use it to grab a snack.”
Field says they plan to run wheelchair-accessible 22-passenger shuttles, unlike Greyhound’s buses, which had 50 or more seats. This means they will have more manageable fuel costs than their predecessors, he notes: “Even a half-full bus will still be making money.”
The buses will not have bathroom facilities, so rest and pick-up stops along the way will vary in length. The company is planning stops in Cache Creek, Clinton, 100 Mile House, Williams Lake, and Quesnel on the trip north, and in Lytton, Boston Bar, Yale, and Hope on the trip south. There will also be a rest stop in Spences Bridge, and Field says that passengers wanting to connect between the two routes—or get from Cache Creek/Ashcroft to head south—will have options.
“If we know ahead of time that someone from Ashcroft or Cache Creek wants to go to Langley, the Spences Bridge bus could drive there for pick-up,” says Field. “And if people from Ashcroft/Cache Creek need to get to Kamloops, we can get them to Spences Bridge. There will be trips to Kamloops on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and we can send a bus from Merritt if there’s enough demand.”
Field adds that they hope to coordinate their service with BC Northern Bus, which runs routes north, east, and west from Prince George.
“We’re hoping to pick-up and drop-off at their terminal. We’ll be talking to them to see if we can coordinate that.”
The company also plans to carry cargo as well. “A lot of packages that come to Kamloops need to go north, and no one is providing that service now.” Field adds that if ridership is high enough, more trips could be provided each week. “If it turns out that it’s getting huge demand then in the spring we can extend it to every day.”
The company does not own the buses yet, but Field said he has seven shuttle buses lined up, plus possible investors with enough capital to fund them. Three of those buses will run the express route from Merritt to Prince George. “We’re kind of doing this on a wing and a prayer sort of thing.”
The Passenger Transportation Branch has given the company until Nov. 21 to get wheels in motion. “We have to have at least two buses on the road by Nov. 21, or we lose our licence,” says Field.
“We’d like to get all seven on the road by then. I honestly believe that we can do it.”
The Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced in a media release last week that 83 per cent of the routes left vacant by Greyhound will be covered by the end of 2018.
“For so many British Columbians, reliable bus service is critical for work, family life, health care, and so much more,” says Claire Trevena, minister of transportation and infrastructure.
“I’m pleased that private bus operators have stepped up and worked with us to make sure British Columbians will continue to travel around our province safely and affordably.”
Other companies approved to offer bus services are:
– Silver City Stagelines from Nelson to Kelowna
– Rider Express Transportation from Vancouver to the Alberta border
– Whistler Rides from Vancouver to Pemberton
– Diversified Transportation (Ebus) from Vancouver to Kamloops, Kamloops to Kelowna, and Kelowna to Vancouver
Other companies that have applied for bus services are:
– Blue Cactus Coach Lines (Snowbus) from Richmond to Whistler and Burnaby to Whistler
– Wilson’s Transportation from Vancouver to Kamloops, Kelowna, and Whistler
– 108129 BC Ltd. (Little Shuswap Taxi) from Salmon Arm to Kamloops
– Cantrail Coach Lines Ltd. from Vancouver to Pemberton
With files from Beth Audet/100 Mile Free Press