‘We are an essential service’: Highway bus companies plead with Alberta for money to survive

EDMONTON — Three shuttle bus companies fear they won’t make it past Christmas if they don’t get funding from the Alberta government.

The presidents of Cold Shot and J&L Shuttle Services told media in Edmonton Thursday they have been operating at a loss since the pandemic began.

In June, the two companies, along with Northern Express, wrote to the province and asked for a cut from the federal government’s Safe Restart Agreement.

They say Transportation Minister Ric McIver did not agree to their funding request and told them to apply for deferred loans or a request for proposal.

“Hopefully this meeting will let them have a closer look at us,” J&L Shuttle Services president Sam Sayegh said.

“We’re just asking the government: Hey, look at us a little bit closer.”

The two bus companies have cut their routes down to approximately 25 per cent in an effort to save money, and buses are running at 50 per cent capacity to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s costing us more because we’re sending bigger busses out with fewer people to keep people spread apart because they’re just paranoid of being next to somebody else,” Sayegh said.

“It’s not like we can stop this entire show and wait till the good times come. Even in the crucial time we still have to provide a service,” Cold Shot president Sunny Balwaria said.

Balwaria said his company is currently selling approximately 1,500 tickets per month, down from approximately 6,000 in January and 5,400 in February.

Sayegh and Balwaria argue highway buses are an essential service that transports Albertans in rural communities to work, appointments and cities like Edmonton and Calgary.

“We’ll run until the last penny in our pocket to serve our community and people,” Balwaria said.

CTV News Edmonton reached out to McIver’s office for comment but has not heard back.

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