Passenger safety allegations chase northern bus lines

The ticket said to dress for the weather.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

The ticket said to dress for the weather.

Still, Haley Moore didn’t expect to sit in a poorly heated bus for nine hours as the outside temperature dropped to -29 C — it felt like closer to -40 with the windchill — as she traveled overnight Dec. 23 to Winnipeg from Thompson.

Moore, newly pregnant, was en route to visit her children for Christmas.

“I was cold, my skin was cold, my face was cold,” said Moore, recalling passengers on the motor coach searching for blankets to stay warm.

Alleged problems involving Maple Bus Lines extend beyond highway travel

Workers took the unusual step last month of picketing for wages they claim were unpaid. Four protesters stood outside its Sherbrook Street office in Winnipeg with signs reading “Need a pay cheque? Don’t work @ Maple Bus Lines” and “Bounced is normal around here.”

Workers took the unusual step last month of picketing for wages they claim were unpaid. Four protesters stood outside its Sherbrook Street office in Winnipeg with signs reading “Need a pay cheque? Don’t work @ Maple Bus Lines” and “Bounced is normal around here.”

People picket outside Maple Bus Lines’ Sherbrook Street office. Workers allege they’re not getting paid. (Supplied)

Former driver Nancy Campbell was among them. In January, a $2,400 deposit from Maple Bus Lines was clawed back from her account after the bank determined the company had insufficient funds, she said.

Campbell said she had yet to be paid, as of Feb. 27.

In December, she received a letter from her bank noting a $1,200 cheque from Maple Bus Lines had bounced because of insufficient funds, Campbell said, adding company owner Lori Mann eventually e-transferred her the money.

“Maple Bus Lines promotes Indigenous relationships with northern communities, and we have totally been mistreated,” Campbell said. “Her drivers, who are Indigenous, are quitting on her because of non-payment.”

Victoria Campbell (no relation) alleged she had to regularly ask for her earned wages. She quit working for the company late last year, citing concerns for passenger safety.

“I’d have to literally talk for it… ‘I need my pay, I need to pay rent,’” she said, adding she is still due $315 from the company.

In a short phone conversation with the Free Press, Mann said the employees can go to the Manitoba Labour Board “because there’s two sides to every story,” before hanging up.

There are no current matters before the board regarding Maple Bus Lines, a provincial spokesperson said in a statement.

However, there are two cases in civil court and one in criminal court.

In February 2022, Maple Bus Lines Ltd. was sued by landlord Borebank Holdings Ltd. Maple failed to file a statement of defence in the Court of King’s Bench in time and was ordered to pay more than $49,000. It paid just under $10,500 months later through a garnishment.

“There are no funds available at this time in the debtor’s account(s),” reads a letter to the Court of King’s Bench from RBC dated Jan. 27, 2023.

Maple Bus Lines was also ordered to pay Pimicikamak Cree (Cross Lake) Nation more than $60,000, according to a ruling filed in the Court of King’s Bench on April 4, 2022.

Maple asked for money from the First Nations band with the option of acquiring part ownership, Cross Lake’s statement of claim alleges. After it forwarded $60,000, Maple Bus Lines reneged on the offer and said the money was just a loan, the claim says.

In 2021, Winnipeg police charged Lori Ann Mann with allegedly defrauding Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp. of more than $275,000. The matter is still before the courts.

— Gabrielle Piché

By the trip’s halfway point along Highway 6, she said she could see her breath. “When we got to Grand Rapids, everybody rushed off the bus, it was so cold.”

After warming up at a gas station for an hour, the passengers reboarded. Their only other option, the driver said, was to wait even longer for another bus to arrive.

The 760-kilometre bus run from Manitoba’s northernmost city to Winnipeg is a lifeline for many northern residents. Passengers of all ages, from those travelling for medical appointments to those on tribal council business to those visiting family, use one of two motor coach services: NCN Thompson Bus Lines or Maple Bus Lines.

Both began operating after Greyhound ended its Manitoba routes in 2018. NCN Thompson runs daily, with a one-way ticket costing $75; Maple offers round trips Sunday through Friday.

In winter, the trip is fraught with treacherous driving conditions and frigid outdoor temperatures. So far this winter, there have been 38 days where overnight lows dropped below -30 C in Thompson.

One current driver and three former drivers say the buses routinely operate with insufficient heat. They, along with passengers, all say it’s only a matter of time before a tragedy occurs.

“They’re going to basically freeze somebody to death or have a bad accident,” said Tony Morrisseau, who was a regular passenger on Maple.

Victoria Campbell drove for Maple Bus Lines last year. (Supplied)

His girlfriend, Victoria Campbell, was a driver for Maple until she quit late last year, in part, she said, out of fear for passengers’ safety due to the poorly maintained buses.

“I was afraid the bus would break down,” Campbell said.

Poorly heated buses is just one of several issues that make winter travel in northern Manitoba a risky proposition, said multiple people interviewed by the Free Press.

The buses are prone to other mechanical breakdowns, from windshields not defrosting to out of order washrooms, sources said.

“Those buses, I don’t know how they can get those things on the highway,” Morrisseau said. “There’s no heat, they’re shimmying… not safe.”

The Free Press reached out to the operators of both bus lines for response.

Lori Mann, owner of Maple, hung up before the Free Press could finish its question about bus maintenance. Questions sent via email to Maple went unanswered.

In a Facebook post last month, the company stated: “We have not had a breakdown in a couple months at least and the cold weather can be very hard on buses/vehicles. We do our very best to avoid this, always have regular maintenance done on them.”

Siddharth Varma, NCN Thompson Bus chief operating officer, said in an email the company never departs a location knowing a bus is without heat.

There have been unexpected mechanical issues leading to heat loss while coaches are traveling but the company works on “getting it fixed” before the next trip, Varma wrote.

“We have never ignored any complaints, we take regular feedback from our passengers and clients and work towards getting the deficiencies worked upon,” Varma wrote, adding its vehicles are inspected before each trip.

This is not the first winter the issue of passenger safety has surfaced. In 2019, a passenger told the Free Press his trip to Winnipeg from Thompson was “a nightmare in an icebox.” However, there is no legislation requiring commercial passenger buses to cease travel in extreme cold temperatures, according to the province.

Eric Dusenge is a former bus driver for NCN Thompson Bus Lines who quit because of his concerns with the condition of buses. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Eric Dusenge said he quit driving for NCN in February, after two seniors had to be physically assisted off the bus after the cold rendered them incapacitated.

“When I saw people freezing in my bus — I know that if someone dies in my bus, I’ll be facing lawyers,” Dusenge said.

He routinely wore three layers of clothing, plus ski pants, while driving. Before each trip, he’d inspect it to ensure everything was in working order.

“The maintenance certificate… says that the bus is good to go, but I would drive it and be like, ‘No, this bus is not good to go,’” Dusenge said. “So many times, I had to refuse to work, because I could see that the bus was not fit to be on the roads.”

Former NCN Thompson Bus driver Eric Dusenge takes a picture Jan. 9 in Grand Rapids at 2:18 a.m. The company installed a mini portable heater to defrost the windshield, but “it wasn’t working at all,” he said in a text. (Supplied)

Other times, he’d be told the vehicle had been repaired, and the paperwork would match, but then, after leaving the warmth of the garage, problems would arise on the highway.

“The windshield (would be) completely frozen. You can’t even see where you’re going,” he said. “So many times, I had to use my credit card to scratch (ice off) the windshield.”

A current driver with NCN, whom the Free Press agreed not to name for fears of pressure from employers, also said it is not uncommon for drivers to scrape windshields from the inside while on the road.

Former driver Nancy Campbell (no relation to Victoria Campbell), said she could only drive 70 km/hr on one occasion because the bus was listing so badly to one side.

Katie Antsanen, a former ticket agent with NCN who quit in January, said she regularly heard drivers and passengers complain of buses breaking down following trips.

According to a spokesperson for Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure, the province conducts random roadside inspections but “only on occasion and typically for paperwork inspection with bus drivers.”

“Carriers may also be flagged for a facility audit based on their on-road performance record or as a result of a complaint investigation,” the spokesperson wrote.

Nancy Campbell drove a tilted bus for Maple Bus Lines down the highway from Grand Rapids to Ashern. (Supplied)

The department would not say whether it has received complaints about either northern-based bus line.

Motor coach operators must inspect a vehicle for defects every 24 hours it is in service.

A broken heater or defroster is considered a minor defect. Once a defroster can’t keep a windshield adequately clear, it’s a major defect, the province said.

“The operator is required to note minor defects and correct them before the next time the vehicle is in operation,” the spokesperson wrote. “If a major defect is found, the trip should not be made at all.”

Former NCN driver Dusenge said he was never stopped for an inspection.

“It’s systemic negligence,” he said. “I’ve never been stopped by any law enforcement officer to verify the fitness of the vehicle.

“Even the law enforcement guys, what are they going to check? They’ll check your insurance and the fitness of the certificate.”

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

Report Error Submit a Tip