The Merritt Shuttle Bus Services Ltd. plan to get buses rolling on several regional routes has encountered a few bumps in the road, but the company hopes to have wheels in motion and buses on the road soon.
“We don’t have any buses at the moment,” says Gene Field, the company’s co-owner and director of operations. “But we have an investor who’s interested. They’ve talked to a lawyer and made a proposal, and now we need to talk to our lawyer.
“This person’s contribution would allow us to get two or three buses purchased and insured.”
In the wake of Greyhound Canada’s closure of all its western routes as of Oct. 31, private operators such as Merritt Shuttle Bus Services have stepped forward to cover 83 per cent of the routes left vacant. The company announced in November that it planned to run thrice-weekly services from Merritt to Spences Bridge and on to Prince George.
It also announced planned runs on routes from Merritt to Spences Bridge and then on to Langley; from Lower Nicola to Kamloops; from Kamloops to Highland Valley; from Merritt to Highland Valley; and from Merritt to Kelowna.
Field originally hoped to get buses running by mid-November; they needed to have wheels on the road by Nov. 21 or they would lose their licence. That deadline has now been extended to Jan. 7, 2019.
“The Passenger Transportation Board has been very cooperative and helpful, and got us the extension,” says Field.
He confirms that the Merritt-Prince George bus will stop in Ashcroft, at the Husky gas station. Other pick-up/drop-off points along the route will be The Packing House in Spences Bridge; the PetroCan station in Cache Creek; the Clinton Emporium; the old Greyhound depot in 100 Mile House; and the Husky station in Williams Lake. A spot in Prince George has yet to be decided.
Field says that the company is also bidding on three of the eight routes left without service following Greyhound’s closure: Cache Creek to Kamloops on Highway 1; Kamloops to Valemount on Highway 5; and Hope to Princeton on Highway 3.
“We have a driver in Kamloops who would do Cache Creek to Kamloops, and another driver who would do Valemount.” Field adds that if a passenger in Ashcroft wanted to get to Kamloops, an arrangement could probably be made for the bus to come down from Cache Creek.
He is now lobbying the provincial government for funding assistance. “Maybe some of that $1.4 billion provincial surplus could be used to help us. Premier Horgan has said the government would do all it could to help the people of B.C.
“People are calling us up, and we’re getting lots of support from people who want this service. We’ll also be talking to First Nations Bands in the region, to ask them what services we can provide.
“The Corrections Branch wants to work with us as well, to get people home [when their sentence is over; a function previously filled by Greyhound]. They can’t directly contract out to us, as they’re federal, but they would use our system.”
Field says that the plan is to continue to add buses once they have secured their licence.
“By the time the bidding process [on the three new runs] is complete [on Jan. 15, 2019] we’ll have been up and running for a month, so it would be easy to add more runs. We’ll be doing cargo as well, and can service all destinations along the routes. We have plans for expansion.
“And we don’t want to be a nameless bus company. We want to get to know the communities, work together, and make people part of the Merritt Shuttle Bus Services family.”