BY CLAIRE CUDAHY
A recent letter to the mayor and council of Red Lake has brought the discussion of a bus service in Red Lake and Ear Falls back to the table.
Jennifer Pedwell, a member of the Reproductive Health Network Committee, wrote on behalf of the group, which strives to address the prenatal and parenting issues in Red Lake and Ear Falls.
“It has come to our attention that the lack of bus services in our area is proving to be challenging for some families,” wrote Pedwell. “ There has not been a bus in our area for well over a year and not everyone in Red Lake has access to a vehicle in order to attend appointments out of town in either Dryden, Kenora, Winnipeg, or Thunder Bay.”
“We would like to know what the town and council are doing to rectify this problem,” she continued.
Thunder Bay’s Caribou Coach Transportation Company was the last bus service in the area. Caribou Coach took over the Red Lake and Ear Falls service to and from Kenora from Excel Bus Lines in Aug. 2013. Soon after, the company ended their three trips a week due to major losses and low usage.
“Over the span of the first four months—August, September, October, November—that we were operating that run, our operating costs ran about $24,000, and we brought in $3,000 in revenue,” Caribou Coach owner Sandy Smith told The Northern Sun News. “We were averaging eight people a month. Thirty six people over a four month period.”
The $21,000 loss took his company a year a half to recover from, said Smith.
“A lot of folks don’t realize that companies like us who provide services to semi-remote and geographically challenged areas, if you will, don’t receive any sort of government funding for those operations. We operate solely on revenue,” explained Smith.
But the transportation issue is not just in the Red Lake area.
“We’ve gone to the government time and time again and said listen, ‘You’ve got to do something with northwestern Ontario. We are happy to provide service but we can’t do it at such a drastic loss.’ They aren’t interested.”
In order to keep his services running in other areas, Smith “self subsidizes” line hauls with chartered rides.
“We have no charter work out of Red Lake, so as a result we can’t self subsidize like we are doing everywhere else to even consider putting service back,” added Smith.
Raising the prices to make the rides “equal cost for service” would result in ticket prices running anywhere from $200-$300, according to Smith.
Despite these obstacles, Smith says he is still open to hearing any ideas for getting his services back in the area.
Red Lake Municipal Chief Administrative Officer Mark Vermette says the municipality “will assist where we can” and is working on a response to the Reproductive Health Network Committee’s letter.