The West Coast Trail Express is operating along the Victoria - Port Renfrew route daily but has been hit hard by charter cancellations and the closure of the West Coast Trail. (Facebook/West Coast Trail Express)

West Coast Trail shuttle operator struggles with closure

Buses now operating Victoria-Port Renfrew route

The ongoing closure of the iconic West Coast Trail is causing long-term impacts for a Vancouver Island transportation company.

In a typical year, the West Coast Trail Express shuttles hikers and explorers to trail heads between Victoria and Nanaimo. But this year, the COVID-19 pandemic closed the West Coast Trail, effectively putting a pin in revenues for the bus company.

In May, Parks Canada announced that Pacific Rim National Park Reserve would beginning opening parks to visitors starting June 4 but the West Coast Trail would remain closed – a decision that would hold firm until there was unanimous decisions from the three First Nations along the trail: Bamfield-area Huu-ay-aht, the Ditidaht, who are based around Nitinat Lake, and the Port Renfrew-area Pacheedaht.

Despite the impact on his business, Michael Anderson, owner of West Coast Trail Express, supports the closure. He says he not only understands why the trail was closed, but would have likely made the same choice.

READ ALSO: West Coast Trail to remain closed for now

“I don’t think I would have decided differently. I can’t be blaming anyone or be upset about that, it’s completely understandable,” he says. “But that doesn’t change things. There’s no way I could have planned for this.”

At the beginning of the season, when uncertainty seemed to be the only certainty, Anderson hired staff and did maintenance on his vehicles setting the company back $50,000 to $60,000.

“Just when the last bus was ready, that’s when the situation happened in early March,” he said. “My bookings stopped and the refunds started.”

The Juan de Fuca trail opened in June, and Anderson started shuttling a meagre one or two hikers along the Victoria-Port Renfrew route. He’s hopeful to break even by the end of the season.

“I’ve already written this season off, I’m not going to make any money,” he says, adding that he will continue to operate until Sept. 7. “I still feel like it’s my responsibility to cover that trail if I can.”

Anderson plans to push on in hopes the trail reopens for the 2021 season.

“My hope is, the trail opens and everything’s back to normal and we have all our international visitors. If not, there may be enough Canadian business to cover it, but that remains to be seen. I’m not optimistic about that.”

Even if Canadians are using the trail, it doesn’t mean charters and shuttles will operate. With all the expenses involved in maintenance and insurance, the buses need to be close to full and Anderson expects hard decisions will need to be made.

READ ALSO: West Coast Trail born out of tragedy

With files from Zoe Ducklow.


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