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Thunder Bay bus operator wants a better deal for transporting cruise ship passengers (2 Photos)

Kasper Transportation says its costs have risen sharply over the last three years

THUNDER BAY — The search for onshore transportation for hundreds of cruise ship passengers expected in Thunder Bay this summer just got a bit harder.

A day after the charter bus department of Happy Time Tours announced it was closing, the owner of another Thunder Bay bus company says the rate he's been offered to transport visitors is unsatisfactory.

"Nobody wants to commit to a full day's work for half price," said Kasper Wabinski of Kasper Transportation.

Now that HT Leasing is shutting down, Wabinski said he felt it was appropriate to make it clear that his firm won't participate unless it gets federal or provincial support, or cruise ship operators come up with a better deal.

He said "I know a lot of work has gone into it and a lot of money was spent" arranging for two cruise ship companies to include Thunder Bay on their itineraries, but bus companies need more consideration for their rising expenses.

"With inflation, the cost of surviving COVID, and everything our businesses have incurred for the last two years, our rates have gone up. We have to pay all of this back sooner or later."   

According to Wabinski, cruise operators want to pay the same rates they paid bus companies in Toronto and Halifax in pre-COVID 2019.

"We don't have that volume. The bus industry is a high-capital-intensive business, low volume and low margin in our region, so our prices have to appropriately reflect those facts."

He added that he's tried to find a way "to make this work, but we cannot."

Wabinski pointed a finger at the province for not coming through yet with a grant from its Ontario Tourism Relief program.

"Our industry has overall been abandoned...The federal government played a key roll overall in our survival, but my commitment based on that support was to maintain our existing services."

He said "sticking out our neck for the cruises without being properly compensated puts everything at risk that we have done to get this far."

Viking Expeditions has scheduled seven visits to Thunder Bay by its 378-passenger Viking Octantis this year, starting in late May.

It's one of  the largest passenger ship ever seen on the Great Lakes.

Another operator, American Queen Voyages, has scheduled two trips to Thunder Bay.

Thunder Bay Tourism Manager Paul Pepe has worked diligently to return cruise vessels to the city for the first time in nine years.

On Tuesday – before Wabinski spoke out – Pepe said efforts continue to find motor coaches suitable for local excursions.

"We're working in close contact with the shore excursion operators and Viking themselves, and making sure we can meet their expectations," he said.

Pepe said all options are being explored, including in Manitoba and the U.S.

Gary Rinne

About the Author: Gary Rinne

Born and raised in Thunder Bay, Gary started part-time at Tbnewswatch in 2016 after retiring from the CBC
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