Old bus rules prevent competition
Motor Carrier Act was created in 1937 to protect consumers
Inter-city bus service in New Brunswick has been shut down for five weeks due to the Acadian Coach Lines lockout, but rules set up 75 years ago to protect consumers are now hurting them by preventing competitors from setting up service in the province.
David Anderson, the owner of Advanced Shuttle Services, a company based in Summerside, P.E.I., wants to set up a daily service that would connect New Brunswick and the island.
But a regulatory system put in place in 1937, designed to ensure bus service to remote communities by restricting competitors from coming into New Brunswick and poaching the best routes, currently prohibits that.
As it stands, Acadian has exclusive rights for most inter-city travel in New Brunswick under the Motor Carrier Act and in return, the company is required to run buses to communities where it doesn't make any money.
The legislation helped consumers two years ago when Acadian wanted to cancel service between Miramichi and Fredericton, as well as Saint John and St. Stephen, saying the routes were money losers.
In documents submitted to the provincial regulator, Acadian said declines in revenue and passenger traffic were hurting the company's bottom line. It said it had to make changes in order to stay on the road.
Although Acadian is a private business, the Energy and Utilities Board refused to allow it to drop the routes. Instead, in its July 2010 decision, the board ruled Acadian could reduce its runs on those routes from daily service to a minimum of three days per week, round trip.
"When it wanted to reduce service or when it wanted to change its fares it comes to the board and applies for a change," said EUB spokesman David Young.
The Acadian lockout, which started in December, has eliminated the only bus link between New Brunswick and P.E.I. and there's no end in sight.
His company, which already operates a shuttle service between Halifax and P.E.I., wants to provide two, 15-person passenger vans that would leave P.E.I. and make stops in Port Elgin, Moncton, Saint John and Fredericton by mid-March.
The previous owner of Advanced Shuttle Services applied to the EUB's predecessor, the Public Utilities Board, in 2004 to provide service between New Brunswick and P.E.I., but was denied.
"This board has repeatedly found that it was in the public's interest to protect the existing scheduled carrier," the decision stated.
The EUB will accept comments on Anderson's proposal until Feb. 7 and any hearing would likely be held later that month.
The Motor Carrier Act says the board can approve such applications unless "the granting of the application would likely be detrimental to the interests of the users of public transportation services, to provincial economic or social development, or to intraprovincial, interprovincial, or international commerce."
About 59 drivers, maintenance workers and customer service representatives were locked out by Acadian Lines on Dec. 2.
Talks had previously broken down in October and workers voted 98 per cent in favour of strike action.
At that time, the company was offering a contract that was worth zero per cent over the next five years, according to Glenn Carr, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1229.
The union wants at least a cost-of-living increase, he has said.