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Victoria’s airport shuttle calls it quits after serving the region nine years

Owner says COVID-19 impacts, Uber were factors

By Nina Grossman
November 9, 2022
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria’s airport shuttle calls it quits after serving the region nine years

Owner says COVID-19 impacts, Uber were factors

By Nina Grossman
Nov 9, 2022
Without the shuttle service, travelers have to drive, take a taxi or use limited bus options to get to the Victoria International Airport. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Without the shuttle service, travelers have to drive, take a taxi or use limited bus options to get to the Victoria International Airport. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily
Latest News
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Victoria’s airport shuttle calls it quits after serving the region nine years

Owner says COVID-19 impacts, Uber were factors

By Nina Grossman
November 9, 2022
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Victoria’s airport shuttle calls it quits after serving the region nine years
Without the shuttle service, travelers have to drive, take a taxi or use limited bus options to get to the Victoria International Airport. Photo: James MacDonald / Capital Daily

Victoria’s only airport shuttle has called it quits, marking an end to one of few transportation options for the region’s air travelers. 

After nine years, the YYJ airport shuttle ceased operations Nov. 1 as a result of diminishing usage, labour shortages, and the unknown impacts of Uber’s impending arrival in the city, according to owner John Wilson. 

“We wish we could operate it,” he said. “It's certainly not a decision we took lightly but coming out of the pandemic with the financial hits we took in 2020 and 2021, we really have to drill down and use our people for services we’re getting a return on.” 

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The Wilson’s Group of Companies, which owns other transportation services including the BC Ferries Connector and the Gray Line Hop-On Hop-Off service, tried to run the airport shuttle over the 2021-2022 holiday season and again over the summer of 2022, but there weren’t enough passengers to justify the costs, Wilson said.

The five brand new mini-coaches the company bought when it launched the service had racked up more than one million miles each, so there was a need for new equipment, he added. On top of that, rising costs for labour and fuel didn’t match demand for the service, which in its prime ran 20 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days per year.

The company’s latest contract with the airport ended at the end of October and there just wasn’t a business case to renew it, Wilson said.

“As time came along, we looked at bidding on the new contract and [the amount] we were going to have to charge people to make it a viable service—we didn’t think people would pay,” he said.

The service has struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic started and travel was suspended around the globe, but even with restrictions lifted, the international travelers that made up most of the shuttle’s customer base haven’t returned.

But Uber was another factor, Wilson said. The rideshare company applied to BC’s Passenger Transportation Board for a licence to operate in Kelowna and the Capital Region, and could be operating in the South Island as early as December.

“That definitely played in our decision making as far as, if Uber would take a significant market share away from the shuttle?” Wilson said.

Rod Hunchak, spokesperson for the Victoria Airport Authority, said the airport continues to serve mostly domestic flights and travelers.

“Our numbers now are pretty much pre-pandemic levels. We definitely have the passengers, it’s just the demographic of those passengers isn’t necessarily the customers of the shuttle,” Hunchak said.

“Historically it was folks coming in for conventions and international travelers,” he said. “That’s kind of their core demographic, and that demographic hasn’t yet returned to the airport.”  

Hunchak said since travel restrictions were lifted, the airport has seen more usage of its parking lots. The second long-term lot, previously reserved for busy holidays, has been open and well-used since September.

But currently, travel options to and from the Victoria airport are limited, as noted in a Capital Daily’s story from October 2021. Without a vehicle or the $60-$75 needed for a taxi trip from downtown, the only option is BC Transit, a trip that requires one exchange for the three-kilometre trek from Highway 17. At its earliest arrival, that bus gets passengers to the airport roughly 30 minutes after the first flight of the day has already left the runway.

With budget airlines offering round trip domestic flights for less than $100, taxi trips could be the most expensive part of your travel. And even those with a car have to shell out $16 per day for long-term parking for the first five days of their trip, and $8 for every additional day.

It’s not that it hasn’t been on the airport authority’s radar. The authority pushed for a direct bus until BC Transit commissioned a feasibility report in 2018.

The report, obtained by Capital Daily last year, compared Victoria to major cities like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal, which provide direct transit for passengers and employees, but noted that Victoria, being a smaller city, might not generate sufficient ridership to justify a direct route.

The report concluded that airport service would need to be subsidized by the airport authority—a marked departure from the money generated through parking fees.

Wilson said the decision isn’t necessarily a permanent end to the shuttle service.

“Most of the forecasts for tourism is that the international market should come back in 2023,” he said. “So we’ll certainly see what 2023 brings. If we can work out a model that makes sense both for us and for the airport and the users of course, then we’ll definitely look at it and try to put something together.”


With files from Jimmy Thomson.

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Nina Grossman
Newsletter Editor
[email protected]

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