NCN Thompson Bus has joined a coalition with other bus companies from across the country in an effort to create a national transportation network.
The company’s chief operating officer Sid Varma spoke to the Thompson Chamber of Commerce’s June 2 virtual meeting about the group, known as the Coast to Coast Bus Coalition (CCBC), which currently has seven members.
Part of what the CCBC aims to do is make travelling by bus easier for passengers by enabling them to book and pay for a single ticket from one province to any other even if they will riding on multiple companies' buses to reach their destination.
The same system would also apply to freight shipments, Varma said.
The capital requirements for one bus company to provide coast-to-coast service the way Greyhound did before it shut down its western Canadian routes in 2018 and then all the remaining routes in the country this year make it unlikely any could do so.
"It's very tough or it's close to impossible for one company," Varma said.
And as true as that was before, it's even more so now, as the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions and requirements have decimated the intercity bus industry.
"The motor coach industry is an industry which has been hit a lot," said Varma, noting that First Nations pandemic lockdowns forced NCN Thompson Bus to stop providing service from Thompson to Split Lake, Gillam and Cross Lake and to put plans for additional routes on hold. "We used to have ridership of 45 to 55 per cent on a normal day. Now it's eight to 10 per cent if it's a good day."
Currently, the CCBC is collecting letters of support from communities and organizations like chambers of commerce to present to federal and provincial governments, which it hopes to persuade to provide $150,000 for development of feasibility studies and a business plan. The coalition would also like to see the federal government create a National Highway Transportation Board to regulate highway passenger transportation the way it used to.
The Thompson chamber agreed to write a letter supporting the endeavour.
With government support, Varma says, CCBC members could expand their route offerings to serve more communities because it is easier for a company with existing routes that turn a profit to subsidize some that don't, much as Greyhound used to do, than for a new company to try to make those less popular routes into money makers.
The CCBC believes it would take about five years to build the proposed network up to full capacity and thst it could become 90 per cent self-sustaining in 15 years.
"It's not a small project, it's a hug project," Varma said.