The three-week-old Acadian Coach Lines lockout should force the New Brunswick government to rethink its position on public transportation, according to the Conservation Council.

Acadian Lines locked out its 59 workers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island on Dec. 2 and the bus company rejected the union’s offer to enter into binding interest arbitration last week.

Acadian Lines is arguing that its New Brunswick operations are not profitable and changes must be made to its business so it can stay afloat.

There's no word yet on when both sides will return to the bargaining table.

With a lockout eliminating bus service altogether, David Coon, the executive director of the Conservation Council, said it's time for the provincial government to consider a public transportation system.

"Most other provinces in the entire country play a critical role in ensuring that there's a reasonable public transportation network in place, and ours has completely ignored this," Coon said.

Coon said the provincial government should, at least, consider helping to establish inter-city bus service by offering some tax incentive for companies.

"A short-term measure would be to remove the gas tax for public transportation providers, so that they would be able to save on their fuel costs, and that would reduce their operating costs," he said.

In Saskatchewan, the provincial government funds inter-city bus service.

Deanna Bergbusch, a spokesperson for the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, said the company receives between $8 million and $9 million from the provincial government, which is about 65 per cent of the revenue.

That, Bergbusch said, allows the company to be creative in attracting business, which has been growing by 10 per cent each year.

"We are putting more amenities on our buses. We have a very good advertising campaign, and we've put seat sales in place in our months where we've had the least amount of ridership," she said.

Bergbusch admits only three of 26 bus routes are profitable but said providing the service to rural areas is something that's worth paying for.

Lockout hurting vulnerable people

Acadian Lines is licensed through New Brunswick's Energy and Utilities Board.

Last year, the regulatory board expressed concern that financial realities might put the company's operations here in doubt.

Michael Perry, a public transportation advocate, said the ongoing lockout is affecting the province's most vulnerable people.

"We're talking about students, we're talking about seniors, we're talking about disabled people. We're talking about people who don't have a car," Perry said.

No one from the provincial government was available to comment on the issue of public transportation.

Acadian Lines has locked out all 59 employees in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.

Bus routes between New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have been halted.

Acadian Coach Lines still runs in Nova Scotia because the company's employees in that province are part of a different union.