Maritime Bus cuts northern routes, reduces others as pandemic takes a toll
Campbellton-Moncton and Fredericton-Edmundston routes cancelled
Residents of Campbellton and Edmundston will no longer have bus routes to larger centres or other provinces as Maritime Bus makes cuts to its service.
Maritime Bus owner Mike Cassidy said the company will be halting the service between Moncton and Campbellton and between Fredericton and Edmundston on Jan. 15. Those routes were also connections to Ontario and Quebec for New Brunswickers from the southern parts of the province.
Cassidy said the company has been coping with plummeting ridership because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said operating costs have been "consistently higher" than revenue generated by the inter-provincial passenger and parcel transportation company.
Cassidy said Maritime Bus moved 111,000 passengers in 2019. In 2020, he said the company had 69,000 passengers.
He said the parent company Coach Atlantic, which also provides tours and caters to cruise ship passengers, lost about $4.9 million in net income in 2020, and revenue dropped by $33 million.
"I have never experienced in my lifetime anything like this," he said in an interview.
Cassidy said the company requested financial assistance from the governments of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia to keep Maritime Bus afloat. He said Nova Scotia and PEI agreed on a deal if all three provinces are involved, but New Brunswick rejected the deal because of its policy to not subsidize for-profit companies.
"Unfortunately, one province didn't want to play in the same sandbox as the other two provinces," he said. "The only way to reduce my operating costs is to travel less kilometres in the province of New Brunswick."
Premier Blaine Higgs said Maritime Bus had a grant of $160,000 in March, so its "financial situation" extended to before the pandemic.
"It wasn't COVID-related as such, and so it does fall into a different category, unlike what is required by the federal support and the matching provincial support due to COVID concerns," he said.
Cassidy said the remaining routes in New Brunswick connect Nova Scotia to P.E.I., and he's keeping them in hopes the two other provinces will still want to subsidize the bus service without the help of New Brunswick.
"I don't want to displace and inconvenience the Nova Scotia and the Prince Edward Island travellers, because I can only assume that Nova Scotia and P.E.I. will still support me," he said.
Maritime Bus had already reduced its runs in 2020 to three days a week, carrying around 80 passengers a day.
Greens call on Higgs to help
Green Party Leader David Coon said these cuts will directly impact people's access to healthcare. He said these buses are "essential" for people in Edmundston and Campbellton who need to go to the Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Centre and the hospitals in Moncton, and cannot afford a car or are unable to drive.
Coon called on Higgs to subsidize the bus service to keep the routes going.
"We're not talking about just cities. We're talking about ... buses that take people to Woodstock and Florenceville and Perth-Andover and Grand Falls and and Edmundston," he said. "There's a lot of communities."
Cassidy said even after the cuts his company will continue to see losses.
"2021 is still going to be a rough year," he said. "We're estimating that our gross revenue will be down $20 million. And I am praying here today that I will only lose $2 million in 2021 compared to $4.9 million in 2020."