Ontario Northland bus services and the Huntsville/Lake of Bays Chamber of Commerce are teaming up to try and find a new home for Huntsville’s bus depot.
The station’s agent, Greg Perras, has announced that he’ll be discontinuing the service. He’s been an agent for Ontario Northland bus services for the past three years and said he’s pulling out of the venture because the depot has been running at a loss. One of the biggest reasons he cited for the decline in revenue is online ticket sales, for which he does not receive a commission. Perras indicated that a standalone bus station for Huntsville is difficult to maintain without an anchor business.
Festing Toyota, which owns the property, has indicated that it is not financially feasible for it to continue contracting out to have the depot plowed in the evenings. Michelle Harvey, one of the dealership’s owners, also indicated that the business has other plans for that block. She said the bus station is not a direct tenant of the dealership, but has an agreement in place with Huntsville Travel, the former agent for the Huntsville bus depot.
Brenda Dunton, owner of Huntsville Travel and Cruises Travel Plus, said her business no longer runs the station.
“Over the years the two businesses have complimented each other, with travel being busy in the winter when the bus was slow, and the bus busy in the summer when travel was slow,” explained Dunton in a written statement to Doppler. “In May 2015 we handed the bus side of the business over to Greg Perras as my husband Don became ill and we could no longer cover staff cost with the drivers encouraging clients to buy tickets online.”
In the meantime, a sign signaling the bus depot’s closure on December 15 is posted on the window.
Agency Sales Coordinator with Ontario Northland, Marc Dubeau, said he’s working with the chamber to find a new location. He said he was notified that the agent was pulling out not too long ago and said if an alternate location does not materialize on time, one possibility could be a temporary passenger pick-up and drop-off area in the parking lot of Mac’s convenience store on Hanes Road. He said that would only involve passenger service, not the ability to send or receive parcels or buy tickets.
“I’m doing my best to come up with a solution before next week because I have to decide what we’re going to do… and of all times for it to happen is just before Christmas, which is our busiest time,” he said.
Dubeau said smaller communities are suffering from online ticket sales. He said the Crown agency is currently looking at the formula it uses to compensate agents. Right now they get a commission off in-house ticket sales and parcel service.
“We’re working at trying to change the model of how we’re doing this,” he said, adding that there is a process and changes are not immediately forthcoming.
Asked about the number of ticket sales in Huntsville, he said he could not divulge those numbers due to privacy issues “because of the fact that it is a person’s business. It’s a private business so I can’t divulge that information.”
He did say Huntsville is the first major stop south of North Bay. He said there are four southbound and northbound buses running daily with an additional run on Fridays and Sundays — their busiest days. “It is a busy place; I mean some of the trips are busier than others, like usually the day trips.”
Dubeau said the schedule would remain the same if the depot moves to an interim location while it looks at a permanent location with the chamber.
Chamber Executive Director Kelly Haywood said she is hopeful that if plowing is provided that Festing Toyota might agree to let the bus depot remain where it is until a permanent home is found, with the chamber serving as agent.
She’s not keen on an interim location at the Mac’s parking lot because there would be no parcel service. People would have to drive to Bracebridge or Port Sydney for that.
“A lot of local businesses rely on parcel delivery,” she noted. “We’re trying to keep it in the exact same location. I know that Greg Perras is done… but we’re still trying to make it work in that location,” she said.
Haywood said the long-term goal is to partner with Northland bus services whereby the chamber would become the agent and move to a mutually agreeable location. The chamber is also looking for a new home by spring of 2018. She agreed that running the bus station independently is difficult but it could be done with an anchor business or organization such as the chamber, she noted.
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