Long-running Wilson’s Transportation is looking at expanding its passenger bus services further into B.C. that Greyhound will leave open when it ends all service out of Western Canada this fall.
What would Wilson’s founder Kello Wilson do?
“I’m not sure he ever imagined this,” said son John, CEO of the longstanding Saanich family business.
Kello is long retired but the company he started with a single delivery truck on Salt Spring Island in 1962 continues to grow. On Wednesday, Wilson confirmed the bus line is considering its first routes independent of Vancouver Island with service from Pacific Central in Vancouver to Whistler, Kelowna and Kamloops, in addition to other options.
It’s a fast turnaround for Wilson’s as Greyhound only announced 48 hours earlier that it will terminate its bus and freight services in Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan and Manitoba, keeping only the Vancouver to Seattle route in B.C.
Even faster, the province’s Passenger Transportation Board announced on Wednesday it will fast-track applications from operators to serve parts of B.C. “left without commercial inter-city bus service as a result of Greyhound Canada’s withdrawal from B.C. in October 2018.”
The release said it would move inter-city bus applications to the front of the line, and give them priority status at each step in the process.
Both Wilson and B.C. Minister of Transportation Claire Trevena believe that while many routes won’t be replaced, the departure also opens the door to smaller inter-city bus companies to fill the routes where there is demand.
“The low-hanging fruit for us is the routes to Whistler, Kamloops and Kelowna, so our team is exploring that and we hope to make some decisions in the next few weeks,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s is the largest motor coach and transportation company on the Island with more than 150 vehicles. Early in 2016 Wilson’s started the BC Ferries Connector, taking over the Victoria-to-Vancouver route based (via B.C. Ferries) out of the same 700 Douglas St. which was previously run by Pacific Coach Lines.
That route ends at Pacific Central Station in downtown Vancouver, where Wilson’s could offer service to Whistler, Kelowna and Kamloops.
“We are mindful that 415 people are losing their jobs and we need to be respectful of them,” Wilson said. “Greyhound is a company that’s done some great work. Wilson’s will fill some gaps that we can.”
It will be up to smaller, inter-city bus lines to fill in the gaps and only on sustainable routes, he said.
“Don’t expect a full swooping solution for all four provinces.”
Wilson’s was already the agent for Greyhound Canada and can sell bus tickets from here to Halifax from the downtown depot on Douglas Street behind the Empress Hotel. The CEO noted that his business faces the same competition that led to what Greyhound cited as a drop in ridership of 41 per cent since 2010.
“The big challenge in the rural communities are cheaper flights, increased car ownership and the shared economy,” Wilson said.
Freight routing remains an integral part of interline bus revenues, up to 40 and 50 per cent, including on the Island, which is something Wilson’s is looking to maintain.
“Nothing here is changing, it’s all status quo on the Island,” Wilson said. “The [possible] change is in Greater Vancouver, and that’s not until Nov. 1.”