Tofino’s summer shuttle service has been put on hiatus due to concerns around COVID-19. (Westerly News file photo)

Tofino pumps brakes on summer beach shuttles

“I think this is a responsible decision to make, especially going into the early parts of the summer”

The wheels on Tofino’s summer shuttles won’t get rolling this month, but the town’s municipal council hasn’t closed the door on relaunching the service if it’s needed later in the summer.

During their May 26 regular meeting, the town’s municipal council voted unanimously to put the shuttle on hiatus for the 2020 season and defer its budget to next year when the viability of the service will be revisited.

The summer shuttle, which buses tourists and residents between Cox Bay and downtown during Tofino’s peak season, was launched in 2007 and revamped in 2014 when its initial $2 fee was nixed and ridership became free. The free service saw large enough ridership for the district to double its fleet from one to two buses last summer.

READ MORE: Tofino expands summer bus service

The budget for 2019’s summer shuttle to operate from June 28 to Sept. 15 was $170,000, with $120,000 coming from Resort Municipality Initiative funding and the remainder coming from Tofino’s pay parking revenue.

During last week’s council meeting, Tofino CAO Bob MacPherson explained that, while Tofino’s resorts are expected to begin opening their doors to travelers in June, operating the shuttle service during the coronavirus pandemic would be a heavy burden for the district’s staff and contractor to bear.

“The cleaning protocols that would be required for the bus at the end of each trip are not 100 per cent clear, but certainly something that we would be challenged to find resources for,” MacPherson said adding that ensuring proper social distancing on the small shuttles would be problematic.

“We’re also concerned about the uptake from consumers. As we do start to welcome visitors to Tofino in the next little while, we’re hearing certainly that our visitors are going to be very carefully thinking about what they do for the most part and we’d be sending empty buses through town a lot of the day.”

READ MORE: Resorts in Tofino and Ucluelet prepare to reopen in June

He said the service has been a success story for the district since its launch and added it could start running again if necessary.

“It’s something that we think has done its job in providing service for our guests as well as reducing the number of cars that are coming into downtown. But, with the COVID pandemic upon us, we’re having to examine a lot of the ways we’re doing business,” he said.

“We’ll certainly monitor how busy the resorts get and what’s happening in terms of the pandemic and, kind of, have in our hip pockets some solutions that, if we do think it’s appropriate to start a shuttle service again, we would start that shuttle service later in the summer.”

Council approved staff’s recommendation to temporarily nix the service with little discussion, though mayor Josie Osborne noted that she was comforted by the fact it could start up again.

“We can still be responsive,” she said. “But, on the whole, I think this is a responsible decision to make, especially going into the early parts of the summer.”

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READ MORE: Tofino driving for change in transportation methods

READ MORE: ACRD approves BC Transit plan for Tofino-Ucluelet

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