Algonquin Park is an outdoor paradise that is loved by a lot of people. There is one issue however. Those without a car cannot access it. It used to be that you could catch a train from Toronto up to Algonquin….of course that stopped in the 1940s/50s. You can take a bus to Huntsville or Maynooth but even then you need to find alternative transportation into the park. This is where Parkbus comes in! Alex and Boris give us some insight into why Parkbus started and the services they offer.
1. Why did you start Parkbus?
My family lived in Toronto without a car, so I didn’t get to go camping until I turned 18 and 19 and started driving. Realizing what I have been missing all these years, I teamed up with my high school friend Alex Berleand, whose experiences were similar, and we started this as a private initiative.
2. What was the initial response?
Initially we approached MEC in Toronto, asking them to conduct some surveys in the store. They agreed, and survey results (showing overwhelmingly positive response) helped us approach Ontario Parks and other partners and we conducted a small 3-weekend test pilot in the summer of 2010. We consequently formalized the initiative under the umbrella of Transportation Options, non-profit organization, which was founded back in 1992, and which is dedicated to developing sustainable tourism and transportation in Ontario.
The initial response from everyone was overwhelmingly positive. At the same time, there was a fair share of scepticism, as many people felt that going to Algonquin buy bus won’t work, except for rare cases of single travellers for whom car rental would be too expensive. As our experience showed, however, single travellers are definitely a minority – most people come in 2s 3s and larger groups.
3. For readers who may not be familiar with Parkbus can you explain how it works?
Parkbus is simply a bus network which connects Ontario cities (Toronto/Ottawa) to campgrounds, canoe access points, backpacking trails and lodges/motels in and near provincial and national parks in Ontario. By dropping people off right where they will be spending their time, or starting their trip, we are eliminating the need for a car completely when it comes to accessing parks, making park visitation experience greener and more equal. We are also bringing new segments of population and new tourist dollars to targeted areas. Finally, our Parkbus Ambassador Program, with volunteers riding the buses and providing guidance and advice to campers with less experience, is another important aspect of the program.
4. I see you have recently expanded into Ottawa, congratulations! Do you think there will be even more expansions in the future?
Yes, Ottawa will start off as a new pilot service this season, with the hope of making it as regular as the rest of our routes based from Toronto. We are doing our best to expand and improve the service each season, based on the overwhelming feedback we continue to get from our passengers and general public. We certainly have many other destinations in mind, and would like to gradually offer people the opportunity to explore all the beautiful parks and outdoor destinations we have in Ontario.
5. What, if any, are the chances of the bus running earlier in the season for people like myself who may not have access to a car but still want to enjoy Algonquin in the winter time?
Some of our passengers have also expressed interest in winter service, and that is something we are looking into for a potential pilot next year. As with every new run, we need to make sure there is enough interest focused on one or two winter runs in order for us to make them happen.
6. Tell us where else Parkbus travels to from Toronto so that my readers are aware of other outdoor opportunities.
Parkbus currently provides service from Toronto to Algonquin, Killarney, Grundy Lake and French River Provincial Parks. This year we are also starting our newly added regular service to the Bruce Peninsula, with stops at Bruce Peninsula National Park (Cyprus Lake Campground), Lion’s Head as well as the town of Tobermory, where passengers can connect to Manitoulin Island via the ferry.
7. For those who are thinking of taking the parkbus, what restrictions are there when it comes to gear?
We are fairly flexible when it comes to gear allowance on board the bus. Each passenger can take a reasonable amount of the necessary camping equipment. We also allow a limited number of bicycles on each bus. If you would like to bring a bike, please call 1-800-928-7101 before booking your tickets to make sure the space for your bike is still available. Canoes and kayaks are not allowed on the bus, but are available for rent from outfitters in the park, and firewood is also prohibited due to the firewood importation ban.