Parkbus seeks Island partnerships

by Michael Erskine

TORONTO—The popular Parkbus service has announced an expansion to Manitoulin Island through a pilot project for 2013. Parkbus has operated for two very successful seasons linking urban adventurers from Toronto seeking opportunities for paddling, hiking and camping in the great outdoors to a number of Ontario’s parks.

The Parkbus 2013 season will kick off the Toronto-Bruce-Manitoulin tourism route linking Toronto to the largest freshwater island in the world on May 18, just in time for the legendary May two-four. The Chi-Cheemaun ferry will play an integral part of the route, which includes destinations in Lion’s Head Provincial Reserve, Bruce Peninsula National Park, the Municipality of Tobermory, and the MS Chi-Cheemaun ferry dock. Visitors will be able to camp, backpack, stay in Tobermory and enjoy Georgian Bay cruises.

On June 21, Parkbus will also launch the Ottawa-Algonquin route at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) Ottawa Store. For the first time, Ottawa will be linked by transit to the most popular park in Ontario, Algonquin, with scheduled stops at select points including campgrounds.

“With a focus on sustainable transportation, we created Parkbus knowing that many people want to enjoy our parks but couldn’t because they don’t have access to a vehicle,” said Parkbus co-founder and project manager Boris Issaev. “With Ottawa aboard, you can now go from the heart of Ontario’s two largest cities directly to your campsite”.

“We are really excited about this,” said Nathalie Gara-Boivin, operator of Providence Bay’s Auberge Inn hostel. The Auberge Inn and Gordon’s Park in Tehkummah are currently seeking partnership with a bus operator to link up with the Parkbus passengers on the South Baymouth side to expand the passengers’ reach. “A lot of people who live in an urban setting don’t have a driver’s licence,” said Ms. Gara-Boivin, “but they would still like to get out and explore the wonders of what we have to offer on Manitoulin.”

The Parkbus operators are currently exploring joint marketing opportunities with the Owen Sound Transportation Company (OSTC) for Manitoulin Island. “I have lived here in Toronto for 13 years,” said Mr. Issaev. “I have only recently learned about Manitoulin Island. People here in the city really don’t know about Manitoulin.”

A marketing study recently conducted for the OSTC identified Toronto and eastern Ontario as a key untapped market for the ferry and Manitoulin hospitality operators. “The market potential here really is huge,” said Mr. Issaev, whose company was one of the driving forces behind the Biketrain concept that has proven very successful in that market.

“Our buses are fitted to accommodate cyclists,” said Mr. Isseav. “There are many people living here in the city that would like to take advantage of the opportunity to get out and explore parks and places like Manitoulin.”

Once the adventurers are aboard the Parkbus, experienced volunteers greet the passengers with maps, information and advice for first-time campers.

For further inspiration, ticket info and schedules, do visit: www.parkbus.ca

According to a backgrounder on the service, Parkbus is a bus service connecting Ontario cities with key parks in Ontario. Funded in part by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, Ontario Parks and Parks Canada, Parkbus provides a sustainable alternative to car travel and is set to help urban Ontarians experience the province’s most popular outdoor destinations.

Parkbus is a project of Transportation Options (T.O.), a non-profit organization dedicated to fostering sustainable tourism and transportation in Ontario. Since 1992, T.O. has worked on numerous successful projects, including the award-winning Bike Train Initiative and the Welcome Cyclists Network.  Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Ontario Ecotourism Society are the collaborative partners of the Ontario Parkbus Initiative.

Ms. Gara-Boivin noted that the Parkbus provides another opportunity for Islanders as well. “If you think about it, you can book a trip to Toronto from Tobermory at a really reasonable rate,” she said. “The Parkbus rates are really reasonable and you could park your car at Tobermory and go across on the ferry to head into Toronto for a visit.”

The Parkbus schedule and fees can be found at parkbus.ca.