Four rural bus companies, including one serving Red Deer, worry they may have to cease services by Christmas if funding isn’t available from the province.
Cold Shot Bus Service, which stops in Red Deer, as well as J&L Shuttle Service, Northern Express, and Sundog Transportation and Tours, say the province is only providing support to bus services within cities from the funding it received from the federal Safe Restart Agreement.
“Rural Alberta bus lines are also important,” said Cold Shot president Sunny Balwaria.
“The situation is pretty critical. That’s the reason we all came together. In the last seven months, all we’ve been doing is running around and knocking on doors to get some help.”’
Cold Shot has served Red Deer since 2018 when Greyhound ended passenger and freight services in Alberta. Prior to that, Cold Shot had been working with Greyhound since 2005.
Balwaria said service to Red Deer has been reduced to five from seven days a week due to the pandemic, and an average of only two or three people per bus get on in Red Deer.
“We used to have a lot of students, a lot of workers, who used to go back and forth from Red Deer on a daily basis. Especially in Red Deer, we used to have many seniors who used to visit the cities for doctor appointments and treatments.”
A letter to the companies from Minister of Transportation Ric McIver in September said the province was not going to provide an operating subsidy to inter-city bus companies at this time.
“Alberta Transporation continues to monitor the situation and the availability of inter-city busing services. The department may revisit options if we determine that busing routes are at risk of being abandoned,” the letter said.
Alberta Transportation recommended the companies defer loans, or access other pandemic supports available from the federal government. But the companies said plans such as Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and Canada Emergency Business Account barely cover 10 per cent of operating expenses.
Balwaria said bus capacity has been reduced to 50 per cent to meet safety standards during the pandemic, and the companies have cut expenses to maintain services.
“We did our best, whatever we could, in the last seven months. Now times are tough.”