A tour bus parked against a sunset.

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Bus Shutdown Leaves Locals Stranded

Having privately funded public services is hitting remote areas hard

People missing health appointments after only Tofino Bus connection cuts service

Living in isolated areas of the Island is part of the wild west coast lifestyle…as long as there’s a way to connect to essential services in bigger cities when you need them.

For those without a car, bus services provide a link to the rest of VanIsle.

But they’re not publicly funded. This means when a private service isn’t getting enough ridership, people end up stuck.

Tofino, Ucluelet, and areas like Hot Springs Cove unfortunately just lost their lifeline for the next four months.

The Tofino Bus ran daily between Victoria and Tofino, with stops in Duncan, Ladysmith, Nanaimo, Parksville, Port Alberni and Ucluelet. But they just announced they’re pausing service until at least May 2023.

“Having received all available government subsidies and grants, continued rising costs and labour shortages, we have no other choice but to continue to make difficult operational changes,” stated Tofino Bus.

Folks are already feeling the impacts.

In Hot Springs Cove, Nora Lucas is the community health representative for the Hesquiaht First Nation. She told Ha-Shilth-Sa that three people have already had to cancel medical appointments.

Chief Councillor Elmer Frank of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation had a similar sentiment.

“A lot of people rely on the service for medical and to get to town,” he told Ha-Shilth-Sa.

Located an hour boat ride northwest of Tofino, most of the population in Hot Springs Cove are elders, and a few single parents who have young children.

Boat fare from the village to Tofino is already expensive. With the bus gone, most will have to use informal rideshares put up on Facebook, Craiglist or ride-sharing apps to get back and forth.

Not the safest option on highways with little to no cell service.

But with ultra expensive charter services as the only other option, most will have to take the risk.

“The struggles are real for those without transportation and we have to work with what we have,” said Frank.

Christine Brice, who uses the bus to travel from Ucluelet to Victoria, told CBC News that she was confused why the service isn’t being publicly funded. Especially in an affordability crisis and as province tries to lower its environmental impact.

“I know plenty of people who try and use the bus regularly, who have either no vehicle or a single vehicle,” she said. “It’s a very valuable way of getting out of town, connecting with family, [and going to] medical appointments.”

Wilson’s Transportation has explained its situation to BC’s Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure in an effort to get funding to restore the service.

“We’re hoping to hear back from them at the end of the month, to see if it’s something they might be looking at subsidizing on a regular basis,” he said.

Currently, no temporary plans have been put in place to service the area.