Q&A: Car-free camping—outdoorsy York grads launch a backcountry bus
published May 23, 2012
Thinking of camping but can’t get yourself there? No car? No problem. Self-proclaimed travel freaks Boris Issaev (BA ’08 and current iMBA student) and Alexander Berlyand (iBA ’09) have made travelling from Toronto to key national and provincial parks accessible for those who don’t own a car.
Astronomy class brought these two grads together, and their mutual love of the outdoors sparked a friendship turned business partnership. Alex (who happened to be near Parry Sound relaxing by the lake when we spoke to him) and Boris, took some time to tell us the impetus behind Parkbus and where they see it going.
What made you decide to found Parkbus? / Why is this so important to you?
Boris: I came to Canada when I was twelve and for the first three years we didn’t have a car. So for the most part, I stayed in the city and only got to go camping for the first time when I was 18 or 19. While I was studying at York, I participated in an exchange and went to France. My time there really opened my eyes to the different types of transportation alternatives and I saw how people were able to just hop on a bus and go anywhere.
We decided to approach MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op) and survey like-minded people. We asked a couple hundred people what they thought about a bus service from the city to the parks. The response was overwhelming and helped us jump-start the initiative.
Alex: The survey also helped make a strong case later on when we approached larger organizations like Ontario Parks. We showed them the stats we gathered and it helped convince them that the service just made sense. They saw potential in the program as well and started bringing it all together and making it a reality.
I came to Canada in 2001. I am lucky to have parents who enjoy the outdoors and camping, and there were times when I wanted to go with my friends and we just couldn’t because we had no vehicle. I used to work at Jasper National Park in Alberta and learned that other people also had challenges with transportation. People know about these places—it can just be so difficult to get there if you don’t have a car! For us, Parkbus really boiled down to a simple concept that simply didn’t exist. It’s the first service of its kind to go directly to the park. And more than transportation, it gives people an experience. Your travel time to the park is shared with other people who also love of camping and the outdoors. We’re not a tour company, but there’s definitely a community feeling you experience on our buses. It really is quite unique.
Have you guys always been outdoorsy types?
Boris: Yes, for the most part. I try to get out of the city almost every weekend. My next trip is going to be hiking in New York State. I try to get out all the time, and travel quite a bit. I think I’ve been to probably 35 countries by now. [Ed note: He’s 26 years year’s old.]
Alex: Very much along the same lines as Boris, I try to get out as much as I can. My parents are outdoor enthusiasts as well, so I’ve been hiking since I was a kid. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a huge interest in nature and the outdoors. Hiking and camping are strong passions of mine.
How did your time at YorkU influence you?
Boris: Well, the interdisciplinary aspect of York really helped. As a computer science major, we’re not really known for our writing skills. But
I was able to take courses outside of computer science that really helped with my communication skills and my ability to write proposals. Also, being able to travel to France as part of my program really gave me perspective. It was such a turning point for me, and helped shape the idea around Parkbus. One great thing at York is the fact that even though we were studying different things, we had the opportunity to take a class together.
Alex: For me, anthropology taught me a lot of things: looking at different cultures from a new perspective, public speaking skills and writing. But the biggest influence was my involvement with the York community. I was heavily involved with the International Student Association (ISAY) and also participated in the Emerging Global Leaders Program (EGLP)—a really great program that helped me connect with the international community at York. I was a participant and mentor at the high school, university and international levels. In addition to that, I also went on an exchange to Israel with York.
Parkbus has been growing steadily since 2010. Where do you see the future of the company?
Alex: Parkbus has been growing and we are very excited for with all this success. Killarney just started as a pilot last year, so we’re going continue with that. We’ve also recently expanded into Tobermory and Bruce Peninsula.
Boris: We also have plans to launch an Ottawa hub in 2013. As long as there are outdoor destinations in Ontario, we will continue to provide this service for people.
Parkbus recently received $240k from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, how will this help you?
Alex: We’re so grateful to both the Ontario Trillium Foundation for this two-year grant, as well as the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport for all the support and seeing the benefit of this project. These grants are monumental for the success of Parkbus, and will certainly help us reach the level of sustainability we’re aiming for. It’s huge for us!Q&A: Car-free camping—outdoorsy York grads launch a backcountry bus,