Acadian Coach Lines says it needs to drop one of its three daily runs between Sydney and Halifax because of fierce competition from shuttle companies.

The bus company made its pitch Tuesday before the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

A small group of people turned out for the hearing in Sydney, but only two people spoke.

Darren Bruckswaiger, deputy mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, said Acadian is a crucial transportation link for the area, since there's no passenger rail service to the island and air fares are too pricey for many people.

"Think about the economic challenges that people face here in CBRM," he said. "Consider those who depend on the bus service, especially our students and low-income people … and the fact that we're living in an aging society where seniors depend on the service."

But there are about a dozen shuttle services and they have much more flexibility than the bus line, said Manon Piche, vice-president of marketing and sales for Acadian's parent company.

"Unfortunately, whether or not we have people on the bus, we've got to go. Whereas shuttle vans, they just don't leave if there's no one on the vans," said Piche. "That creates quite a fixed cost that we have to cover, and there's not enough demand at the present time."

John Pearce, spokesman for Transport 2000, a transportation lobby group, said Acadian could win back business from the shuttles if it did a better job of marketing. 

He also suggested a gas or tax rebate to help Acadian keep its routes.

Acadian has also applied to cut its daily service between Kentville and Digby and add two express runs between Halifax and Moncton, N.B.

Quebec-based Groupe Orleans Express Inc., which bought Acadian five years ago, estimated the company has lost approximately 100,000 passengers and $1.6 million since then.

The utility and review board is expected to release its decision in about three months.