For eight Saturdays in August and October, residents and visitors in the national capital can opt to leave their cars at home and instead pay for a round trip to the NCC-managed park on one of two routes offered by Parkbus, which provides bus transportation to outdoor destinations.
Depending on the date, the shuttle will either travel up the Gatineau Parkway — stopping at the Pink Lake trailhead, the MacKenzie King Estate, the King Mountain trailhead and, finally, the Champlain Lookout — or drive non-stop to Lac Philippe, located farther north in the park.
If the pilot is successful and demand for the shuttle is high, the project might turn into a regular service, Boris Issaev, co-founder and CEO of Parkbus, said in an interview.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We’ve been receiving dozens of requests every year to try something out to Gatineau Park.“
Founded in 2010, Parkbus offers bus service to a number of national and provincial parks from major cities across Canada, including Vancouver and Toronto, according to its website.
In 2013, Parkbus piloted a shuttle from Ottawa to Algonquin Park, but that route is no longer offered. Issaev said talks with the NCC about a Gatineau Park shuttle began earlier this year.
In a statement on Thursday, a spokesperson for the NCC said the Crown corporation decided to give the collaboration a go because of the non-profit’s “expertise” in providing transportation from cities to the outdoors and because the commission is striving to “diversify access to Gatineau Park.”
“As part of our sustainable transportation plan for Gatineau Park, the NCC wants to favour more efficient modes of transportation that have a lower impact on natural ecosystems,” spokesperson Dominique Huras said in an email.
While the shuttle to Lac Philippe is a first for the NCC, the commission has previously offered its own free shuttle service in and around Gatineau Park, where Ontario and Quebec residents flock year-round to hike, bike, swim, camp, snowshoe and ski.
In 2015, the commission launched a shuttle loop between Camp Fortune and the Champlain Lookout during the park’s Fall Rhapsody event. Initially designed to be a three-year pilot, the project expanded in 2017 to include two routes, more drop-off locations and a downtown Ottawa pickup point.
That free shuttle service will return this autumn for Fall Rhapsody, running on all four weekends in October, Huras confirmed. The Parkbus service to Lac Philippe will also run on the four Saturdays that month.
Parkbus shuttle not accessible but changes possible if service expands, co-founder says
Reacting to the Parkbus shuttle announcement on Twitter, one user asked whether the buses to Gatineau Park will be wheelchair accessible.
Issaev confirmed the buses being used aren’t universally accessible, adding that Parkbus typically uses school bus vehicles because they are the cheapest to run.
“However, if we see that there is demand, we will be able to obviously change that,” he said. “In Toronto, we actually have a separate program where we run a bus service for people that have accessibility requirements.”
The buses aren’t equipped with bike racks either, but that’s also something that can be addressed down the road, Issaev said.
The majority of Parkbus’ passengers are typically hikers, according to Issaev, but he said the group believes it’s important to accommodate cyclists and does operate coach buses in other parts of the country that can carry up to a dozen bikes.
“All of these things are possible, we’re just really starting small and just kind of gauging the demand,” he said of the Gatineau Park shuttle.
Gatineau Park shuttle riders are welcome to bring a folding bike on board, Issaev added.
The Parkbus round trip to Gatineau Park costs $20 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, and $10 for children 12 years old and under. Infants two years and under ride for free, Issaev said.
The pickup point for the Parkbus service is at 1 George St. in the ByWard Market, behind the Chapters on Rideau Street.
The first shuttle on the trial service runs August 3. Links to reserve a seat can be found on the NCC’s website.