The New Brunswick government is refusing to step into the four-month-old Acadian Lines lockout as workers and customers anxiously hope the buses will begin to roll soon.
Department of Transportation officials met with the company in January. At that meeting, the department maintained its position that the provincial government will not be providing subsidies to Acadian Bus Lines.
"We understand the inconvenience this service disruption has caused for those who rely upon it and that it has had an impact on many New Brunswickers," said Transportation Minister Claude Williams in a statement on Tuesday.
"We are hopeful the two parties in the dispute can work together to resolve their differences and find a successful solution, however, this is a federal labour issue and the province will not intervene. The province is not considering subsidizing inter-city bus operations."
The federal government has also refused to wade into the contract dispute between Acadian Lines and the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The company locked out its 59 workers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island on Dec. 2. Acadian Lines has repeatedly said it needs to make reforms to its service to stop its financial losses.
Acadian Lines lost around $2 million running buses in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island last year.
Groupe Orleans Express, the parent company of Acadian Lines, has lobbied for provincial subsidies to help finance the bus connection.
Group Orleans Express said in January the company does not have to pay provincial diesel tax in Quebec, a move that knocks almost 18 cents a litre off the company's fuel costs in that province.
Acadian Lines has said if the New Brunswick government offered a similar exemption, it would save the company up to $300,000 annually.
The union and company are not in talks to resolve the dispute. The two sides met on Feb. 11 and 12 for about 27 hours with a federal mediator. But those negotiations did not bring the two sides closer to a deal.
The union said it was willing to stay at the negotiating table longer, while the company said limited progress was made before the discussions ended. Acadian Lines also criticized the union for "a lack of seriousness."
There are no other talks scheduled.
The union has started an email campaign, seeking an end to the contract dispute. It says more than 5,000 have now been sent to Acadian Lines head office in France.
But no more talks have been scheduled.
‘Am I going to lose everything I have?’
The protracted labour dispute is causing stress for the many workers and customers who rely on the bus service.
Some of the 59 workers in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island have found other temporary jobs. But many are just waiting anxiously for the lockout to end.
Sean McBrine used to work behind the counter for the company and he admits this winter he has one of the cleanest driveways going. McBrine said shovelling snow from his driveway is one way to cope with his mounting stress over the lockout.
He said he’s unsure how he is going to pay his bills if the dispute drags on.
"You have a mortgage to pay, and a car payment, and credit card bills, and utility bills, and food and gas, and you have no income coming in, and you have to stop and think, ‘Am I going to lose my house? Am I going to lose my car? Am I going to lose everything I have?" he said.
While workers are worried about when they will be back to work, some companies that rely on Acadian Lines to ship goods are also frustrated.
Kyle Nicholson ships Volvo parts across the province sometimes six or seven times a day. He said he and the clients want to see the buses roll again.
Nicholson would pay roughly $8 for shipping his car parts on the bus but a courier is now charging him between $15 and $20.
And, he said, his clients are losing out the longer the lockout continues.
"Customers, they don't get the parts the same day or sometimes even hours away. So now, it takes a day or two extra for customers to get the parts," he said.
Meanwhile, a Summerside-based shuttle company is hoping to offer bus service in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.
But first, Advanced Shuttle Services must get approval from the Energy and Utilities Board.
The company will appear before the regulatory board on Monday.
Two interveners in that application will be Acadian Coach Lines and the Amalgamated Transit Union.
The company would like to use two, 15-person passenger vans to shuttle people between the two provinces. The use of 15-passenger vans has been criticized.
If the service is set up, the vans would leave Prince Edward Island and make stops in Port Elgin, Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton.
The company said in January that it would like to have the service operating by mid-March.
Advanced Shuttle Services, under a previous owner, applied in 2004 to the Public Utilities Board to set up a service but they were denied.
In that decision the PUB, the predecessor of the Energy and Utilities Board, said, "this board has repeatedly found that it was in the public's interest to protect the existing scheduled carrier."