Posted on Dec 11, 2020
UCP DENIES SUPPORT FOR ESSENTIAL RURAL BUS COMPANIES
EDMONTON - Rural bus companies are struggling to survive as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the UCP government has been aware of their dire situation for months.
Cold Shot, Sundog, Northern Express and J&L Shuttle Service provide intercity bus service to over 100 Alberta communities. Cold Shot alone moves 8,000 people per month. These companies provide essential service to smaller rural areas in the province, moving customers to medical appointments, social services, and fill the gap for a public transit system that most of these communities don’t have.
In June, the companies appealed to the UCP for a small portion of the $140 million in federal funding earmarked for the transportation sector and were denied.
“We asked for $2.9 million to keep all four companies operational through the end of April. Given how much the federal government offered up to Alberta, it seemed like a reasonable ask” said Sunny Balwaria, President of Cold Shot. “The big issue these services are facing is limiting our capacity to 50% in order to keep our customers safe.”
Mayors of these rural communities have now started pleading with the UCP government to provide critical financial assistance to their bus lines. Stating that it is well known that rural communities do not have access to the same amenities and services that large centres provide, and the bus services provide their residents with an affordable option to access these needed resources and have a better quality of life.
“Services such as Sundog play an instrumental role in helping our residents attend critical appointments in the city.” said Marcel Michaels, the Mayor of Hinton, Alberta. “The threat of potentially losing such a service is extremely concerning to us.”
Brooks, Beaumont and Valley View Mayors have all written to Minister of Transportation, Ric McIver’s office, and the bus companies have written to Premier Jason Kenney’s office, to no avail.
“If Jason Kenney doesn’t act now, these bus companies could be obsolete by Christmas.” said NDP Critic for Municipal Affairs, Joe Ceci. “the UCP are abandoning these rural Alberta communities in the middle of a pandemic, and will leave these municipalities in a really rough situation.”
“Not all of these municipalities have the means to build their own public transit system that can travel between sectors. These bus services have filled a major need in their communities.” said Ceci.
“Transportation is essential to all communities during the pandemic.” said NDP Critic for Transportation, Rod Loyola. “These rural communities will lose a very vital connection to other centres if their local bus services have to shut down. Residents need these services, many to get to work. It’s not just for access to wants, this is a need. How can Jason Kenney say he cares about rural communities when he is so willing to cut them off from the rest of Alberta?”
“I’m calling on Jason Kenney and the UCP government to answer this request, and provide the funding to get these essential services to the other side of the pandemic. We must ensure that rural Albertans can continue to access healthcare, mental health services, and get to work.” said Loyola.