Tofino Bus Service claims north island bus route is unsustainable without subsidy. (viconnector.com Photo)

Warning: cancelling bus service to the North Island will compromise public health

Mount Waddington Health Network says transportation primary factor for rural health access

Removing public transportation between Port Hardy and Campbell River will inhibit access to health care, warns the regional health network.

Tofino Bus Service, the only public transit option for North Islanders to the rest of Vancouver Island, announced earlier this month plans to cancel Route 5 indefinitely. The route runs between Campbell River and Port Hardy, with stops in Sayward, Woss, Port McNeill and Port Alice.

RELATED: Tofino Bus Service wants to cancel service to the North Island

The Mount Waddington Health Network wants the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) to know Route 5 is not only used by tourists but many residents in the North Island who do not have a car. Reducing access to specialized health care will cause delays in diagnoses, which is a known factor in turning minor health conditions into acute conditions.

The health network’s mandate is to keep residents out of acute care.

“To fulfill this mandate, we strongly advocate that public transportation remain available and uninterrupted,” the network wrote in a letter to the PTB.

Transportation is the “number one barrier in accessing health care in rural British Columbia,” according to an assessment done last year by the Rural Coordination Centre of B.C.

The health network is also concerned that cancelling the route will disproportionately affect “vulnerable segments of the population including seniors, single parents, youth and the impoverished.”

Tofino Bus Service applied May 13 to cancel service north of Campbell River. Deadline for public input was set at May 27. The tight time frame was a surprise to Port Hardy Mayor Dennis Dugas, who has requested that PTB extend the deadline for comment. 

“It kind of jumped up on us unexpectedly. We never really had a chance to discuss it with the bus service.”

Did Tofino Bus Service — which operates the route with Vancouver Island Connect, both owned by the Wilsons’ Group — consider a partial reduction in service instead of a full cut?

“That’s a discussion we wished we could have had,” Dugas said. “We were not given enough time to think about this or adjust to it.”

Tofino Bus Service claimed the average ridership is five to six passengers a day on the round-trip route. This doesn’t accurately convey how busy things get in the summer with tourism, Dugas said.

BC Transit runs buses between and within Port Hardy and Port McNeill, and has a winter route to Mount Cain in Woss. It does not connect to Port Alice, or any towns south of Port McNeill.

RELATED: Wilson’s Group acquires 16-year-old Tofino Bus service

John Wilson, President and CEO of the Wilson’s Group said the company looked at reducing service from daily, but still calculated the route would be a financial loss. With the opportunity for a smaller local company to take over the route, the Wilson’s Group decided to apply to withdraw their license altogether.

Wilson added that they have been working with inter-city bus services nationally to encourage the government to offer break-even subsidies for small numbers make it hard to financially operate.

Meanwhile, the North Island-owned taxi and shuttle company, Waivin’ Flags, has applied to take over the service.

Paige Quansah started Wavin’ Flags in 2014 when she moved to Port McNeill from Ontario. If awarded the licence, Quansah plans to begin offering trips every second day until demand increases. Her route will start earlier and return later in the day to allow convenient day trips to Campbell River.

She is ready to begin operating immediately, using existing fleet vehicles.

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