Young people are moving into cities at an astonishing rate. They’re ditching cars, fueling the cycling boom and opting for smaller living spaces and walkable neighbourhoods. Despite the perks of city living, Parkbus founders Alex Berlyand and Boris Issaev felt something missing: easy access to nature.
Enter Parkbus, an initiative that provides express bus service to key outdoor destinations in Ontario. We spoke with Boris about what it took to set the wheels in motion.
What inspired Parkbus?
In other places around the world, you don’t need a car to access nature. In France, for example, rural bus networks enable public transportation to parks, and in US, public transit is becoming an important part of park experience. From the onset, we knew this was something that was also needed here.
What needs does it address for young people?
As more young people are choosing not to own a car, Parkbus is an easy way to reach outdoor destinations. At the same time, young people are also looking to connect to nature, but may not have experience or know where to start. Parkbus isn’t just a bus service, but a hub where people can connect, learn and explore different places. We offer programs like Learn to Camp, Parkbus Ambassador Program and work with local outfitters to help people plan their trips.
Why is it so important to connect people – especially people living in urban centres – to parks?
Our parks are critical to our physical and mental health. One of our passengers recently commented that being able to access parks is as important to her health as being able to access doctors and hospitals. I also think that enjoying nature is closely tied to our desire to protect it, and by getting urbanites to nature we are not just creating campers, but also environmentalists and advocates.
What do your destinations offer that city parks lack?
The fresh air, solitude, and natural wonder of the wilderness are things that you don’t experience in an urban park. I love urban parks as well, but seeing the Milky Way, hearing a loon call, or climbing the mountain to a glacier lake is simply not something you can experience in the city.
Why do you think Parkbus has been so positively received?
Our approach to running Parkbus is different from just running a bus company. In transportation, it’s all about saving money. As a non-profit initiative we care about the impact first, and profit second. We use the most comfortable buses for long-distance routes, we run raffles and give out tickets to other charities and non-profits. We also organize special events, like free trips for recent refugees to experience snow for the first time, or free shuttles to Rouge Park, thanks to our sponsors.
Alex has been phenomenal at helping build a community of Parkbus Ambassadors and creating a fun, engaging brand. And we genuinely care about people. In fact, the only time we had to cancel a bus, I actually personally drove to Ottawa from Toronto to pick up passengers and drive them to Algonquin Park.
How important were partnerships to getting your idea off the ground?
Partnerships were always critical to our success – we have been extremely fortunate to receive funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and enjoyed great relationships with the Mountain Equipment Coop, Ontario Parks and Parks Canada from the start. Without existing connections in the industry, partnerships can help extend your reach and effort many times over. With our partnership with Ontario Parks’ Learn to Camp program, we offers discount transportation to participants at Grundy Lake. We generate lots of awareness about Parkbus by leveraging the Ontario Parks network.