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‘A devastating loss’: B.C. Charter bus companies struggling to survive pandemic

Motor coach companies struggling to survive pandemic
Motor coach companies struggling to survive pandemic

With no cruise ships delivering international tourists, no conventions and no concerts this summer, British Columbia’s charter bus operators are struggling to survive during what is normally their moneymaking season.

The BC Trucking Association (BCTA) surveyed its membership between late May and early June using May 2020 data, and found motor coach companies expect it will take at least 20 months to return to pre-COVID-19 business levels — if they make it that far.

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“It’s truly a devastating loss,” said John Wilson, president and CEO of Wilson’s Group of Companies.

“Ninety-five per cent of the motor coaches right across North America are parked right now.”

B.C. tourism survival concerns
B.C. tourism survival concerns

Wilson runs the largest charter bus company on Vancouver Island and the second largest in the province. He shut down most of his transportation operations in mid-March, laying off more than 200 employees. Ninety-five per cent of his fleet of approximately 200 motor coaches remains off the road.

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“We continue to be down approximately 95 to 97 per cent of revenue month over month,” Wilson told Global News.

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Ninety-two per cent of motor coach companies who responded to the recent BCTA survey indicated they are concerned about their business surviving the next three months.

“Our own concern is that business will take longer to rebound than we’d like, putting some B.C. road carriers in jeopardy,” BCTA president and CEO Dave Earle told Global News.

Phase 3 means British Columbians can now make plans to travel within province
Phase 3 means British Columbians can now make plans to travel within province

Government programs have helped Wilson’s Group keep some services, including industrial shuttles running, but Wilson said more aid from Ottawa and the province is needed to prevent companies from going under before the economy starts to recover.

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Interest-free loans, rent relief and extensions on the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS) through the fall and winter would all assist with liquidity and solvency, he said.

“Anything and everything that can help with the cash flow is what is going to be the key to survival for most companies,” said Wilson.

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As the motor coach industry hopes for a lifeline, Wilson has managed to get the Butchart Gardens shuttle and Sightseeing Victoria’s Gray Line Hop-On Hop-Off service up and running three days a week, for Phase 3 travel.

Tofino Bus and BC Ferries connector service between Victoria and Vancouver will resume mid-July.

Wilson expects the limited restart will only generate about 20 per cent of regular revenues, and until tourism returns, the majority of his vehicles will stay parked.