Minister considers Crown corporation for bus service

Nova Scotia's Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Maurice Smith, met with P.E.I Thursday to discuss buses in the Maritimes.

N.S. transport minister met P.E.I. counterpart.

Nova Scotia's Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, Maurice Smith, says he's ready to look at a Crown corporation option for an intercity bus service.

He spoke to reporters Thursday after the weekly meeting of the Nova Scotia cabinet in Halifax.

"It's something we will look at, we're going to look at everything that's out there," he said. "We need to have a regional service." 

The minister met with Transportation Minister Robert Vessey Thursday to discuss buses in the Maritimes, one day after Smith met with his counterpart from New Brunswick.

But the cash-strapped P.E.I. government says replacing the regional bus service should be taken up by the private sector.

"No one likes to lose services, I think Acadian is going to be in service for a while, that'll give the private sector time to get bus plan together with enough time that's I think will be operatable and feasible for them," Vessey said.

Smith said he's confident there will be inter-city service in the region by Dec. 1.

Last week, Acadian Coach Lines announced it was pulling out of the region as of Nov. 30. The company has not asked for financial assistance and the province has offered none.

Trius Tours in Charlottetown and Ambassatours in Halifax have both expressed interest in serving the region if provincial regulations were relaxed.

Student Stephanie O'Brien says she's relieved.

"I think it's great ... I travel from Saint John to Halifax often and I don't have another means of transportation the train doesn't go to Saint John it only goes to Moncton," she said Thursday morning, before leaving on a bus from Halifax to Saint John.

"To have something else come in, I'm able to go home at Christmas or at Thanksgiving or at Easter or in the summer to see friends, weddings, stuff like that. Otherwise it's pretty near impossible."

"Without the bus, I'm pretty much stranded unless I find another ride with someone else," said Brittany Gregory, a student on P.E.I.

Acadian Lines, owned by Orleans Express, said it has lost $12 million over eight years.

The company has made requests to drop some rural routes because, it says, they are not profitable. Review boards in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have rejected some requests.

Unlike the other Maritime provinces, P.E.I. doesn't regulate intercity bus service.

Companies say these rules make it difficult for them to discontinue unprofitable routes or offer seat sales.

"We have to look at regulations over all in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, see where they're compatible, what can be changed if necessary to encourage a service in the Maritimes," Smith said.

Smith says all options are on the table, including the creation of a Crown corporation.

"Generally speaking that's an option that I'd be prepared to look at in terms of the global options that might be available," Smith said. "I'm not committing to anything this stage."

But Vessey told his counterpart, P.E.I. isn't interested in getting into the bus business.

"We have no funding for that type of service at this time," Vessey said.

Vessey said he expects companies to bring forward plans in the next week or two to fill the void created by Acadian Coach Lines.