Caribou Coach reduces service

Courtesy of the
Atikokan Progress

Nearly a decade after it launched its Thunder Bay-Fort Frances service, Caribou Coach is experiencing a dramatic drop in ridership and has cut service to one round trip a week.
“We are down 55 percent over the past year,” noted owner Sandy Smith.
“We were down 85 percent in the week before Christmas, usually one of our busiest times,” he added.
The scheduled round-trip service will be on Tuesdays, with the eastbound bus departing here at 1:15 p.m. and arriving in Thunder Bay at 6:45 p.m. (EST), with departure from Atikokan at 4 p.m. (EST).
The westbound bus will leave Thunder Bay at 9 a.m. (EST), depart from Atikokan at 11:30 a.m. (EST), and arrive here at 12:15 p.m.
Caribou will offer occasional express trips-one-way service-that it will announce online, usually a week to a week-and-a-half ahead of time.
“I hear things are tough for the bus services in southern Ontario, too,” Smith said.
But he remains disappointed the service has never been as popular with customers as they indicated in surveys and community meetings he conducted when starting it back in 2008.
Competition from unlicensed carriers and other “under the radar” ride services has been the hardest aspect of the business to deal with, Smith noted.
“We follow the letter of the law-all the rules and regulations,” he stressed.
“We are fully licensed and insured, and have made a big investment in our vehicles and fully-trained and qualified drivers.
“And we don’t get any assistance, from any government-municipal, provincial, or federal,” Smith added.
“All of our costs have to be recovered from the passengers who use the service.”
Smith worked closely with Common Voice Northwest last year, as it lobbied for subsidies for inter-city bus service for the northwest.
For a subsidy of about $2 million a year, they calculated that existing carriers could introduce a much-expanded daily service that would serve nearly every small community on Highways 11, 17, 72 , and 105 from Wawa to Red Lake.
“That’s peanuts compared to what the province is spending on MetroLinx-that’s the Go Transit service in southern Ontario-and even on Ontario Northland, which serves the northeast,” Smith noted.
Common Voice Northwest pitched the proposal at province-wide hearings into the regulation of inter-city bus service.
But it was not well-received.
“They weren’t really interested,” said Smith.
“What they want to do is de-regulate,” he argued. “They say that will introduce more competition and better service.
“Maybe that’s true in the south, where they have millions to draw from,” noted Smith.
“But it won’t do anything here in the northwest,” he warned.
Caribou Coach has been running a round-trip service–Thunder Bay to Fort Frances and back to Thunder Bay–three days a week (Sunday, Tuesday, and Friday) since about 2010.
It had started with four-day-a week service but cut back.
It also tried offering a van service when ridership was low, but that was not at all popular.
For the past year or so, it has been running buses exclusively.
Smith said that if usage starts to pick up, the company will start running more scheduled trips.
He added he also was willing to work with any community or organization that was interested in supporting a charter service, say for medical trips to the city.
For the latest express trip schedule, visit www.CaribouCoach.com or check the company’s Facebook page.
The company also can be reached toll-free at 1-866-935-2811.