Keeping the wheels turning by putting service first
Cold Shot Bus Service
- Region: Alberta
Cold Shot Bus Service keeps Albertans connected during the pandemic with safe inter-city transportation.
Support for Cold Shot Bus Service during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Category: Community economic development
- Story Date: 2021-04-13
Community is at the heart of what Cold Shot does. It's why Sunny Balwaria, President of Cold Shot, had his sleeves rolled up and was assisting passengers arriving at the Edmonton bus terminal on a chilly day in December 2020. As Sunny helped a senior step down from the bus, she immediately recognized the man helping her as the bus company's owner. He had been on the news talking about how Cold Shot was looking for support to endure the pandemic.
"As I was getting her bags, she handed me a 5-dollar bill," said Balwaria. She was so grateful for the service that Cold Shot provided. She depended on it to provide essential travel for medical appointments and visit friends and family pre-pandemic. "That gesture made my day."
When Greyhound cancelled all bus service in Western Canada in 2018, Balwaria believed he could step up to fill the space. Many questioned how an independent operator could do what Greyhound could not, but Balwaria saw an opportunity. He had worked as a subcontractor to Greyhound since 2005, and believed he knew what it would take to continue to serve the Albertans he had come to know.
On November 1, 2018, Cold Shot added 5 routes previously run by Greyhound Canada on top of the 4 routes it operated as subcontractors. The company developed a more agile service with smaller buses and a better online booking experience, while keeping the service low-cost.
"We may not be a luxurious option, but we get people to where they need to go, comfortably," said Balwaria.
By focusing on providing reliable transportation that communities need, Cold Shot was able to grow and support local economies. He added routes to underserved rural areas and made every effort to hire locals as Cold Shot expanded.
"Local staff know their community. They are in the best position to serve local passengers and businesses," said Balwaria.
In just over a year, the company started to see the results of its efforts. By the end of 2019, Cold Shot expanded its routes to over 40 communities. Over 2,000 small businesses across Alberta rely on the company for next-day, door-to-door freight services.
The impact of COVD-19
In early 2020, the world changed as COVID-19 hit.
Stay-at-home measures forced Balwaria to make some tough decisions about reducing schedules and staff hours. As the pandemic wore on, the costs of overhead, maintenance and fuel continued to pile up, and the business started taking on debt. By October, the need for support reached a tipping point. At the end of 2020, Sunny Balwaria faced the decision of whether Cold Shot would remain in business.
"We had customers call us in tears when they learned we were facing financial pressure. For many of our passengers, they have no other way to access essential services that are not available in their community."
Balwaria started knocking on the doors of as many organizations and government officials as he could reach, looking for support to keep Albertans connected. He learned of Western Economic Diversification Canada (WD) and knew he had found the help he needed.
Receiving support from WD
Balwaria recalls the conversations with WD staff as supportive and understanding of the business's pressures.
"In that first call, I finally felt a glimmer of hope. That there might be support for us after all."
During the call, he learned of the Regional Relief and Recovery Fund (RRRF). As part of Canada's COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, the RRRF helps businesses and organizations across Canada to mitigate financial pressures caused by the pandemic. RRRF is helping keep more people employed and sustaining more employers for recovery.
"It took my comptroller and me 30 minutes to fill in the online application," said Balwaria. "I have since recommended WD and the program to colleagues who are facing a similar situation."
To date, Cold Shot has received $390,000 from the RRRF program, which has helped the firm stay afloat and kept Albertans connected to essential services. As of February 2021, Cold Shot has been able to return schedules back to the active routes and is adding more shifts for as many staff as possible. The support is a significant relief, but ongoing success is still dependent on the pandemic's duration.
As for the 5-dollar tip, Balwaria still has it.
"It is sitting on display in my place of prayer as a reminder that service matters more than money. It will be the last 5 dollars I spend serving Albertans."
The Government of Canada is taking action to support western Canadian small- and medium-sized businesses. Information on financial and economic support is available online.
PHOTO: Cold Shot employees at the Edmonton bus terminal, taken before COVID-19 public health measures. Credit: Cold Shot.
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