As of June 16, First Canada no longer offers a bus service to the Kitimat-Terrace Airport.
The company had to permanently park the operation after a trend of low ridership and increasing costs.
Cheryl Ward, division assistant for First Canada in Vernon, said that a number of costs made the operation too challenging to run. That includes wages and fuel costs.
“We just couldn’t make it work for us.” she said.
The company also received no additional financial support for the service, despite beliefs.
“We weren’t subsidized in any way. I know a lot of people thought that we were but we had the full brunt of this.”
The company had tried using a smaller, 18 passenger vehicle compared to their usual 48 person bus, but even that didn’t prove to improve the economics of the trip.
“We averaged two riders per turnaround trip,” said Ward.
Ridership had never been high for the service, she said.
The bus ran three times a day during the week and twice on Saturday to match with Air Canada Jazz’s flight schedule.
Ward also said that their bus service had to undergo heavier security in the years following the September 11 terrorist attacks which affected their wage costs.
That’s because they used to transport mail to the airport but new screening requirements made that more challenging.
They no longer ship the mail by bus to the airport.
The news was a bitter pill to swallow for long-serving First Canada driver Cecil Brown (Ceese as he likes to be called.)
Since 1986, Brown has driven for the company, mainly with the airport run on Mondays to Fridays, with some charter services thrown in the mix.
He thinks that, over the course of his career, he’s met everyone in Kitimat, and will miss the interaction with the airport crowd when the service ends.
He’s aware that ridership is low, but also knows that with the construction boom in Kitimat that demand is sure to rise.
Since work at the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter began, for instance, he’s seen numerous contractors and managers transit from the airport to town.
Passengers have frequently complained about the service ending since the announcement, he said. Brown is equally sad to see the service go. He said in the winter it’s particularly an excellent service to have.
He remembers driving the smaller shuttles to the airport and aside from the fact they weren’t any more economical, he said they were far less safe than the larger bus in use now.
Brown will be starting on city-based transit after the last airport drive.
Meanwhile the Kitimat-Terrace Northwest Regional Airport will be doing whatever they can to see the service revived.
Carman Hendry, airport manager, said that the airport society will be mailing a letter to First Canada advising that demand is likely to pick up soon.
“They might want to re-look at this in the near future,” said Hendry. “There are changes happening in the region.”
He realizes the airport can’t have say over a private enterprise and knows the ridership numbers have been low but the airport itself is seeing the benefit of regional economic activity. Passenger numbers are very high at the moment.
“The passenger numbers are going up so we’re hoping that’s a sign that everybody will be picking up their numbers.”