Delivery services’ importance heightened in pandemic

Shutterstock

Part III of a series

EDITOR’S NOTE: Manitoulin Island businesses and consumers have often raised concerns over the relatively high cost of shipping goods to the Island, especially when compared to farther distances on mainland routes. The Expositor will use this series to better understand why this is the case and what can be done to manage the situation.

MANITOULIN – The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the numbers of people staying closer to home and, in the internet age, many people have turned to procuring goods and services online. This has had wide-ranging impacts, some significant and others minimal, for the shipping companies that serve Manitoulin Island and the businesses that rely on delivery services to keep their doors open during provincial lockdowns.

Kerry Bowerman at Manitoulin Chrysler knows well the reality of shipping items to Manitoulin, as he often has to do for body shop car repairs. He uses a variety of companies but has had to adjust his practices based on market changes during COVID-19.

“Purolator, especially, quadrupled in price; we pretty much had to quit using them for Toronto orders,” he told The Expositor. “We’ve used Manitoulin Transport for a lot of stuff; their prices were higher than Purolator at one time but now they’re a way better price.”

In his conversations with delivery drivers, he said demand during the pandemic has meant at least one full truck per day on Manitoulin, sometimes two. Turnaround time for orders has also stretched from next-day to nearly a full business week.

Pricing parts for body work can prove to be challenging from a cash-flow perspective for the business.

“The other day, I got a $40 part on a retail basis, and it cost $60 just to get it here. So now I have to turn around and submit that back to the (customer’s) insurance company, so it’s money all the way down the road and it takes time to file all that and get the money back,” he said.

Ontario Northland previously offered Bus Parcel Express to Manitoulin Island, a service that allowed people to place deliveries along its routes. 

For instance, a box weighing 10 pounds would cost just $12 to transport from Sudbury to Manitoulin, far less than a comparable courier service. Increasing the origin distance to North Bay only brought the price up to $16. For Sudbury deliveries of 30 pounds, the cost was $18 and for a 50-pound shipment the cost would be $23.

When the bus stopped running to Manitoulin and Island-based All In One Taxi ran a shuttle to the Espanola bus stop instead, Ontario Northland continued to offer the shipping service. However, that shuttle shifted to an on-demand basis last year and Bus Parcel Express is no longer available on Manitoulin.

Delivery service demand has gone way up for Jeff Bebonang of Jeff’s Taxi. This June marks 20 years since he began delivering parcels and it now comprises about 95 percent of his business—up from 90 percent the before the pandemic.

“It’s been hard to keep up with the high demand,” he said. “Lots of the people who call us are garages that need parts from Sudbury and it saves them from doing a trip themselves.”

Mr. Bebonang added that the Northern and remote surcharges of courier companies has turned some customers away from their services and toward smaller, local providers.

Delray McCarthy of Eenvoudig Simply Unique in Mindemoya said she hasn’t seen a major impact on her company’s shipping needs during the pandemic. She said she still faces an extra fee for being in a rural location, despite the steady traffic of delivery companies coming to the Mindemoya area, but said prices have not increased a great deal and delivery times have remained relatively steady.

Ken Niles of All In One Taxi does much of his business in Espanola these days and said he is still extremely busy with deliveries especially. He delivers medication, flowers and serves restaurants and says he is fielding more traffic than ever before.

Up until the fall, he operated an eight-zone system on Manitoulin Island with two vehicles in many of the locations. However, when ridership dropped in the pandemic, he had to adjust his service levels.