Four rural bus companies, including one serving Red Deer, fear they may have to shut down service by Christmas if funding isn’t available from the province.
Cold Shot Bus Service, which stops in Red Deer, along with J&L Shuttle Service, Northern Express and Sundog Transportation and Tours, say the province is only providing support for bus services in cities from funding that received from the Federal Safe Restart Agreement.
“Alberta’s rural bus routes are also important,” said Cold Shot President Sunny Balwaria.
“The situation is quite critical. This is why we have all come together. For the past seven months all we have done is run around and knock on doors for 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 had been reduced from seven days a week to five due to the pandemic, and on average only two or three people per bus rode in Red Deer.
“Before, we had a lot of students, a lot of workers, commuting between Red Deer every day. Especially in Red Deer, we used to have a lot of old people visiting towns for doctor’s appointments and treatments.
A letter to business from Transportation Minister Ric McIver in September said the province would not provide an operating subsidy to intercity bus companies at this time.
“Alberta Transportation continues to monitor the status and availability of intercity bus service. The department may review options if we determine that bus routes are at risk of being discontinued,” the letter states.
Alberta Transportation has recommended businesses defer loans or access other pandemic supports available from the federal government. But companies said plans such as the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy and the Canada Emergency Business Account barely cover 10% of operating expenses.
Balwaria said bus capacity has been reduced by 50% to meet safety standards during the pandemic, and companies have cut spending to maintain services.
“We did our best, everything we could, over the last seven months. Now times are tough.