A pilot program to shuttle nature lovers to Sea to Sky hiking areas proved so successful that the organizers will look at expanding it for next year.
Parkbus, which started in Toronto six years ago, had a trial run of three, direct-service day-trips from Vancouver to the Stawamus Chief, Shannon Falls, Alice Lake and Garibaldi this past summer. The $44 fee for the Sea to Sky trip included drop-offs and pickups at the four stops.
"It worked out really well," said Parkbus co-founder Alex Berlyand. "It's almost surprising because we introduced it fairly late into the season and the response has been very, very positive. A lot of people booked as soon as they found out and we were eventually sold out."
Parkbus in Toronto goes to 15 destinations — and features both overnight and day trips. Berlyand said when Parkbus kicked off, he and his partners thought the service would be used by experienced hikers and campers who own their own equipment.
"What we're seeing in the last few years is there's a trend with people who don't really have the experience — they've never done these activities but they're eager to try it out," he said. "It's kind of like a guided experience, and it feels like you're part of a bigger community."
Every trip has what Berlyand calls an ambassador onboard to answer questions, educate passengers on bear safety, the importance of leaving no traces of garbage and what to wear, for example.
"We can change people's perspective a little," he said.
Berlyand also noticed that families and new immigrants have embraced Parkbus as a way to get to know their new country, to explore and that this "changes the way they see their new home."
Parkbus is a non-profit organization, which not only taps into a sustainable transportation ethos, but also opens many more doors than a for-profit business would.
In B.C., Parkbus has partnered with B.C. Parks, Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), and Better Environmentally Sound Transportation. Berlyand said participants can rent equipment from MEC.
For next year, Parkbus could look at expanding in the Sea to Sky corridor, with trips into Joffre Lakes, for example, that may solve ongoing parking issues.
"There are so many vehicles on those roads and it becomes a little too crazy. So basically we see ourselves as part of a solution to that problem as well," he said.
Parkbus partners with bus companies. "We connect all the dots, we find the right operator and take care of the reservations on our end — we put it all together and promote it," Berlyand said.
"It's been a bit of a surprise to us — the concept is so simple and we just tried it and we started hearing people saying: 'Finally, we were waiting for this.'"