On the buses: Entrepreneurs hope to fill Greyhound void

As Canadian bus behemoth reduces its services in B.C., industry regulations complicate the launch of competing operations
Tofino Bus owner Dylan Green wants the Passenger Transportation Board to allow him to compete with Greyhound on a route between Victoria and Campbell River

Entrepreneurs are aiming to capitalize on Greyhound Canada's plan to slash $6.75 million off its estimated $14 million in annual losses in B.C. by cutting service in the province by 25%.

Tofino Bus Services Inc. owner Dylan Green told Business in Vancouver that he would like to double his revenue by launching a service on Vancouver Island on two of the 15 B.C. routes that Greyhound will be reducing: Victoria to Nanaimo and Nanaimo to Campbell River.

Green has applied to the Passenger Transportation Board (PTB) for permission to operate on those routes.

"Intercity bus schedules are all regulated," he explained. "We can't just run wherever we want."

The 20-employee Tofino Bus operates a route to Tofino from Victoria via Nanaimo, but the PTB prohibits the company from allowing any passengers it picks up in Victoria to get off the bus in Nanaimo.

If the PTB approves Tofino Bus' application for the new routes, its Victoria passengers will be able to disembark in Nanaimo while new scheduled runs will also drop passengers in Duncan and Campbell River.

Green is concerned that if his application is not approved, the Greyhound cuts could hurt his business because there will be fewer people who use Greyhound buses to connect with his Tofino Bus routes.

"Anyone who wants to go from Campbell River to Tofino takes Greyhound to Parksville. Then we pick them up in Parksville and take them to Tofino."

Premier Pacific Coach Lines owner David Lengert is another entrepreneur hoping to capitalize on the Greyhound cuts.

He told BIV that he's considering applying to the PTB to offer scheduled service between Vancouver and Kelowna, which is another route where Greyhound is reducing service.

Lengert operates a charter service between Vancouver and Kelowna. He is not allowed to offer scheduled service, and he is limited to offering that service to groups, not individuals.

The only route that Greyhound eliminated entirely was its Victoria to Mount Washington run.

Local operators such as Smith Transportation, which offers daily scheduled service between Victoria and Mount Washington, are likely to benefit from that cut. New entrants are unlikely to seek to operate on that run, said Granville Entertainment Group (GEG) principal Ron Orr, who owns the Snowbus service between Vancouver and Whistler.

"Our concept has always been to create the Snowbus brand and then apply that brand to other markets," Orr said. "On the Victoria to Mount Washington route, though, there are enough local operators who are probably well suited to serving that niche."

GEG invested a small stake in Snowbus when it launched in 2004 and became the majority owner in 2009, when Snowbus founder Joktan Elbert wanted to reduce his involvement in the venture.

"At first blush, it's an odd investment for us," admitted Orr, whose company's primary business is nightclubs.

However, Synergies help make the venture profitable.

Orr sells packages that include a ride on the bus and a room at the GEG-owned Comfort Inn on Granville Street, where the bus stops.

Advertising for the profitable Snowbus is also prominent at GEG-owned nightclubs such as The Roxy, Doolin's Irish Pub and The Cellar.

"What appealed to me about Snowbus is that many of the people who we felt would be riding the bus are the people who are already our clients or customers or guests," Orr said.

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