One-man operation looking to carve out a niche in crowded Thompson bus market

Steven Crooks wants to separate Highway 6 Express from the rest of the pack through personalized service

Since Greyhound shuttered its operations in Manitoba and the rest of Western Canada last Halloween, three new Thompson bus companies have emerged to accommodate the northern passengers that were left behind.

While companies like Thompson Bus and Maple Bus Lines are attempting to replicate Greyhound’s business model through establishing a medium-sized staff and a multiple vehicle fleet, the owner of Highway 6 Express is trying a different tack.

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For right now, Steven Crooks has only one 16-passenger bus to his name and a single employee: himself.

Since Oct. 26, this entrepreneur has been making runs from Thompson to Winnipeg and back twice a week under the Highway 6 Express banner, dropping off passengers and delivering freight at both locations.

Although Crooks admitted that he can’t cover the same ground as Maple or Thompson Bus, he said Highway 6’s status as a one-man show only motivates him to try and provide an even better service.

“There’s no middlemen. There’s nobody to blame any wrongdoings on. It’s all on me,” he said. “So I’m going to give 100 per cent and give the best service possible, because it’s my name hanging on this.”

Crooks also believes that having a direct line to his customers as a driver gives Highway 6 Express a kind of personal touch that his direct competitors can’t duplicate.

“I drove all throughout the holidays and got people back and forth to their families,” he said. “I threw on my Santa hat throughout the 24th to the 26th while I was driving down the highway and I kind of felt like Santa Claus a little bit.”

While a lot of people were left scrambling after Greyhound made its July 9 announcement that it would cease operations in Manitoba, and most of Western Canada, Crooks said he began drawing up plans to start his own transportation company over a year ago.

After receiving a small business management certificate from Red River College in August 2018, Crooks decided to expand his services to include passenger transportation and would go on to launch his first official trip later that fall.

Just like any new start-up business, Crooks said he’s already encountered speed bumps along the way, especially during his first full month of operations.

“November … it was hit and miss,” he said. “I had really good days and I had bad days. I had days where I had no people. I had days where I had one person and I’ve had days where I was sold out.”

Luckily, Crooks said his company got a nice spike in business during December, and he remains confident that he can shoulder 100 per cent of the responsibility heading into the rest of 2019.

“If it does get to that point where it is getting overwhelming, of course, I’ll get somebody to help me out in that department, like a secretary or something,” he said. “But as of right now, I’ve got my Bluetooth headset, I answer phone calls and I just do all my bookings through online.”

As for the fate of competing Thompson bus companies, Crooks said he’s not certain if the market will be able to sustain all of them moving forward.

“From what I’ve seen, I’m not sure if there’s enough [room] to keep everybody afloat for a long time,” he said. “January is off to a good start and all I see is growth for me personally in the future. As for the other companies I can’t speak for them.”

Crooks was born and raised in Thompson, and briefly worked at Vale before starting his own transportation company. Outside of owning and operating Highway 6 Express, Crooks also serves as the frontman for the rock bands Dreadnaut and Wakefyre.

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