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Via strike may cost bike rally $6,000

Charity event may have to rent buses

COSTLY CONTINGENCY PLAN. The Friends for Life Bike Rally may have to spend $6,000 on school buses to return participants back to Toronto, if the Via strike continues until next weekend. Credit: Courtesy of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation

For hundreds of people, two wheels have proven to be a lot more reliable than two tracks.

This is the unfortunate situation for many of the 400 participants in the Friends for Life Bike Rally after Via Rail announced a strike at noon on Jul 24.

Originally, many riders had planned to travel back from the charity event’s finish in Montreal using complimentary tickets provided by Via Rail as part of their sponsorship.

And while the trains were scheduled to come back to Toronto on Aug 1 and 2, Via has already cancelled services across the country for the next few days.

“Right now it’s hard to say how long the actual strike will last,” says Via spokeswoman Ashley Doyle.

Murray Jose, executive director of the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation (TPWAF), says there is a contingency plan to bring the riders home. But he adds that the yellow school buses planned as an emergency ride back would be far from a favourable alternative.

The cramped and bumpier route would also have significant financial costs for TPWAF.

“These weren’t budgeted for at all,” says Jose, “so they’re coming directly out of money that would have gone to the clients and the work that we do.”

Jose says the total cost of renting the standard yellow school buses amounts to about $6,000. And if the Via strike does stop in time for next weekend, Jose says the bus company has promised TPWAF that there will be no cancellation fees.

For those riders who wanted to stay in Montreal longer but also booked with Via, Jose says there will be spots available on the buses at a cost of about $35. One bus will leave on Aug 1 and three will leave on Aug 2.

This year marks the 11th annual Friends for Life Bike Rally to support men, women and children living with HIV and AIDS.

For six days, 400 participants will travel the 600km distance to Montreal, with 235 biking the entire route. Riders train for up to three months and travel as far as 127 km a day. Each rider fundraises an average amount of $2,600.

Via Rail has been an official sponsor since 2001.

For more information go to Bikerally.org.