One year in and Silver City Stage Lines is running the Kootenay to Kelowna bus connector seven days week and averaging 16 passengers each day.
In the past 12 months since taking over the route after Greyhound Canada hit the brakes for good, owner Fritz Keller remains in it for the long haul.
“Time goes so fast,” he said. “Business has been a little bit better than I was hoping for, obviously there’s a little bit of room to improve, but we are happy for the first year.”
Besides upgrading to a more user-friendly booking site, at the behest of his customers, Keller added a Saturday run to the schedule three weeks ago.
“We had lots of inquiries, especially from Nelson and Castlegar Selkirk students, they would like to go to Kelowna on Saturdays … have fun, then come back with us on Sunday. And also a few seniors like the idea to go see family for the weekend,” he said.
“So it’s good, and there’s definitely been an awesome response.”
While Keller and a former Greyhound professional remain the two main drivers, to help keep operations running smoothly Monday to Sunday, he also added two more jobs to the roster and filled them with local hires.
Reliability is key to Keller’s service, so he runs a tight ship in terms of scheduling.
He takes pride in the fact that the stage line never strays – the bus leaves Nelson for Trail at 6:30 a.m., arrives at Orchard Park Mall by 12:15 p.m., then heads back to the Kootenays at 1 p.m.
Another new offering which went into play a month ago, is service to the Kelowna airport for a flat fee of $35. If there is no unexpected delay on route to the Okanagan, and the bus arrives by 12:20 p.m., then a lift to the airport is do-able.
“So far, we are always on time,” Keller said. “Every time we’ve had someone for the airport, we were able to take them, and they really appreciated that service.”
This winter season, however, he’s tweaking the afternoon route back into the Kootenay region.
Instead of risking foggy conditions on the Strawberry Pass and Rossland hill, from now until spring, the bus will be heading straight into Castlegar. Trail-bound passengers will be coached into town on an inter-city bus.
“The pass and then the Rossland hill are really hard on the buses,” Keller explained. “And up to 60 per cent of our ridership is out of Castlegar and Nelson, so they love the fact that they are more or less on a direct bus trip from Kelowna.”
More than anything, as a small business owner, Keller’s service is all about the person sitting in the seat.
“It’s been a pleasure doing this,” he shared. “The people are so nice, they are very thankful and grateful that somebody stepped up (after Greyhound Canada stopped the run).”
One of those passengers, Loraine Fabrick, called the Trail Times to ask that Keller be recognized for his company’s exemplary – and critically-needed service – on his one-year anniversary.
Fabrick lives in the Boundary. Once a month for the past five years, she’s had to catch a bus to Kelowna for a particular medical treatment.
Since Keller stepped in, her travels have always been on time, unlike the oft late-running Greyhound line.
And Silver City Stage Lines comes with the personal touch that only a small business service can offer- the same trustworthy and friendly face behind the wheel each trip.
“There was no glitch between when Greyhound stopped and when Fritz was there … he was set up to go right away, and I just really want him to be acknowledged,” Fabrick said.
“I am on there every four weeks, we’ve become close friends, and he goes above and beyond in so many ways,” she shared.
“And for one year in business, I think he has done just wonderful. I appreciate their service so much, and I think they need recognition.”