Lion’s Head Shuttle Bus Service Requires New Business Model To Operate In 2022

Future of the Lion’s Head shuttle service remains undecided.

By Joanne Rodgers, Bruce Peninsula Press

The Lion’s Head Transit Authority lost money in its first year of service during the summer of 2021. Bus operator Tim Matheson says he did not expect the service to be profitable in its first year. However Matheson felt that they achieved what they started out to do: reduce pedestrian traffic on the streets, reduce parking congestion, make the roads more safe for all and reduce overall traffic friction in the area. Feedback on the service was generally positive.

The shuttle service was able to start running in Lion’s Head in mid-june of 2021. Initially it was hoped the shuttle service would be in operation by the May long weekend, but could not operate due to provincial COVID-19 restrictions.

Over the summer the ridership of the shuttle gradually picked up, the service mostly offered for free, saw approximately 6,000 persons using the service.

The operating costs for the bus were in the neighborhood of $59,000. The capital costs were around $35,000. The original business plan expected the Shuttle to operate from Victoria Day weekend in May to Labour Day weekend in Thanksgiving weekend.

Parked 1,300 vehicles, 5,000 fewer than estimated

The Lion’s Head Transit Authority and the Municipality of Northern Bruce negotiated a lease arrangement for the use of the Arena parking lot in Lion’s Head. The agreement was never finalized and became a moot point due to the lack of demand for the parking spaces. 

Matheson obtained permission from the Bluewater School Board to use the parking lot at the Bruce Peninsula District School (BPDS) and this parking lot was the only one used by the shuttle service to park its customers’ vehicles. 

Approximately 1,300 vehicles used the BPDS parking lot over the summer, 5,000 fewer vehicles than was estimated in the Shuttle’s business plan. Various factors may have contributed to the lower estimated demand for shuttle service such as the late start due to COVID-19 restrictions, availability of free parking offered on some streets, time needed to build awareness of this new service and lower tourist numbers in 2021 than in 2020.

The shuttle bus, which seats 22 passengers, offered all-day use of the shuttle included in their parking fee. Walk-ons were to pay a nominal fare of $2, but in reality, the service was mostly free to all passengers, especially in this cashless society.

Another goal of this shuttle service was to offer free transport from the Hayes Senior Complex to the downtown core. However, there was very low ridership by the seniors.

Shuttle service future in jeopardy

Matheson has not decided if they will operate the shuttle service in 2022. Commenting on the profitability of the shuttle in 2021, the service “Did not break even, did not expect it to, but did not even come close”, says Matheson. 

They say the current business model is unsustainable and requires fundamental changes. Matheson is currently considering various options including the possibility of partnering with the Municipality to make the service sustainable.

Matheson feels they have adequately demonstrated “the potential for the shuttle service, but the service cannot work as it did in 2021. With a different business model, the service might be viable in the next year or two.”