Manitoba bus companies calling for provincial help to address pandemic losses

Charter bus companies in Manitoba, as large weddings, festivals, sporting events and tours have been cancelled due to the pandemic, and now operators are asking the province for help. (CTV News Photo Jeff Keele)

Business has all but stalled for Manitoba’s charter bus companies.

Except for some school runs, president John Fehr says Winnipeg’s Beaver Bus Lines came to a halt when the pandemic began.

It’s putting a financial strain on business

“I’ve already, just last month, sold two buses and I’m looking to sell more,” said Fehr

It’s the same story with other charter bus companies in Manitoba, as large weddings, festivals, sporting events and tours have been cancelled.

David Anning is the president of Compass Coach Lines in Brandon.

“It’s been a long struggle here over the last seven months. We’ve literally had zero revenue and right now we’re in survival mode,” said Anning

The industry is asking the provincial government for $2 million to cover ongoing costs like utilities, property taxes, and mortgages Bus operators say they are also facing start-up costs like rehiring mechanics and drivers, and maintenance for the estimated 220 buses province-wide.

BJ Langdon, president of Tony’s Team Transport, says you can’t just turn on the key and go.

“It’s going to be very expensive to get these things going, they’ve been sitting for 15 months and that‘s when things start, things you don’t know are happening, are happening under the hood,” said Langdon

In a statement, Jobs Minister Ralph Eichler says he met with operators and listened to their concerns

“We will continue to work with this sector and the Manitoba Chambers of Commerce on a plan to help them recover from the pandemic,” stated Eichler.

If there is no funding, some say it could be the end of the line for smaller companies.

“My fear is that there are probably some operators, especially in rural Manitoba, that probably won’t open up again,” said Langdon

And there is another concern besides money.

How long it will take to convince people to jump back on board?

“My hope is I guess with enough people vaccinated, people will once again feel comfortable and safe to ride on a bus again,” said Fehr. “Hopefully, we can get these wheels turning.”

Minister Eichler also said many bus companies were eligible for the bridge grant and that the government is focusing on vaccinating Manitobans to reopen the economy to allow for more travel.