For many people who live in cities, owning a car is not practical. However, this means when it comes time to escape for a canoe or camping trip, residents of most cities are up the creek without a paddle before they can even find some water; transit routes don’t stray from well populated areas and renting vehicles is too painful and expensive to be a worthwhile solution. In Canada, an entrepreneurial duo who wanted to fix this problem has given the people of Toronto and Ottawa an option that will get them directly to provincial and national parks from the Downtown core.
Pocket Robin caught up with Alex Berlyand, co-founder of Parkbus to learn more about their service that helps people get wild’erness.
“We believe our cities would be much better places if everyone had a little taste of nature once in a while.”
It is hard to believe that we have really gotten this far with Parkbus, an idea that started as a conversation around the campfire on a camping trip in Algonquin. At that time, neither of us knew what this could become or how to go about it, so we started small and began making friends and setting up meetings. At first, we approached MEC [an outdoor recreation gear and clothing cooperative] to survey shoppers who we thought were potential future Parkbus users, and ask questions like “How do you get to Algonquin?”, or “Would you use a bus service to take you there?” etc. The response was positive, and things started snowballing once we had met with several bus companies and the park itself. After the initial pilot run of 2010, it became clear that this service was in demand, and could become something much bigger.
Most of all, I think that having established our initial large partnerships with MEC, Ontario Parks and other organizations in the industry strengthened our confidence in the project and made us realize the potential moving forward. Having the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport as well as the Ontario Trillium Foundation support the project also marked a very important stepping stone for us in 2012, realizing we can now put all of our efforts into growing the Parkbus network and connecting more people with the beautiful nature we have here in Ontario.
Most Parkbus users are young professionals 21-35 years old who live in the city but do not have access to a vehicle. We have also noticed a growing number of families who find it much easier to use our service rather than worrying about driving to the park and dealing with their kids in the car. Over the last 2 years there has also been an increase in ridership of tourists visiting Ontario from abroad and going to experience Algonquin or any of the other parks for the first time.
Our biggest challenge is always raising more awareness despite having a very small marketing budget. Over the last 4 seasons we found that word of mouth does wonders, but there are still many Torontonians who are unaware of the outdoor opportunities here in Ontario, or the fact that they are easily accessible without a private vehicle. Each season we look for new partnership and opportunities to spread the word and grow the outdoor community.
We’d like people to know that Parkbus was started from the ground up, and still runs very much with the same mentality. We started Parkbus because we saw the need for this type of service in Canada, and believe that a bigger percentage of the urban population needs to experience and see the benefits of outdoor recreation, whether it is camping, hiking, canoeing or simply a day out with friends in the park. We believe our cities would be much better places if everyone had a little taste of nature once in a while.
We are currently working to launch a new extension of Parkbus, a project we’re calling Parkbus South. Starting in 2015, we will pilot service to a number of destinations closer to the GTA, giving people the option to visit a park for a day and try out different activities such as hiking, rock climbing, tubing, paddling or just have a fun day outside with friends. We believe this would encourage more people to get outdoors, as there are less financial barriers or time commitment issues.
To learn more or book your next excursion visit www.parkbus.ca.
*Photos courtesy of Parkbus