Public transit pilot set for Acadian Peninsula this summer
Buses will connect communities including Lamèque, Shippagan, Tracadie-Sheila, Caraquet
Public transit is coming to New Brunswick's Acadian Peninsula.
As early as this summer, residents in the northeastern region of the province will be able to take buses travelling on a route between Miramichi, Neguac, Tracadie-Sheila, Pokemouche, Caraquet and Bathurst, while another line will take people between Lamèque, Shippagan and Pokemouche.
For customers who don't live directly on the main route, an on-demand ride service will also be available to bring people to collection points along the way.
The service will start in July as a pilot project, with plans to continue indefinitely once any kinks are ironed out, said Cédric Landry, communications manager for the Acadian Peninsula Regional Service Commission, which will be operating the service.
"So the idea is that there is going to be one main circuit that has different … stops within the Acadian Peninsula, and if you're not, for an example, on one of those main circuits, well, you're going to be able to request a minivan to bring you to the main circuits," Landry said.
Landry said the commission took on the project after its board members, made up of representatives from the region's municipalities, gave the commission the mandate to pursue public transit on their behalf last November.
Landry said the regional service commission is expecting to spend about $1.2 million to purchase four 25-passenger buses and at least five minivans, which will be paid for through a combination of federal, provincial and municipal contributions.
The regional service commission is also in the process of hiring a co-ordinator to oversee the transit service, and plans to hire five drivers to operate the buses and minivans.
Operating costs are anticipated to be about $765,000 annually, with an exact amount and a breakdown of the contributions still be to determined following the pilot project.
And while it's still subject to being finalized, Landry said general fare for travel within the Acadian Peninsula will be pegged at around $5 per person.
Benefit to seniors, newcomers
The service will be the first of its kind in the region, where private vehicles currently serve as the only transportation option for residents.
Maritime Bus doesn't operate on the peninsula, and neither do any taxi companies, according to Caraquet Mayor Bernard Thériault.
The lack of alternatives is particularly difficult on the region's elderly population and newcomers, he said.
"It's needed, first, because a lot of people now are getting older and they may not be comfortable with driving a car," Thériault said, adding that some seniors are struggling to find ways to get to medical appointments at the regional hospitals.
"Second, we're in a world right now where immigration of foreign workers will be needed and we're already there.
"So as much as Fredericton, Moncton and Saint John, our communities are in need of workers … and [it is] very difficult for someone that has no automobile, no means to travel, to answer the calls of work."
Sustaining and growing population
Yves Bourgeois, dean of studies at the University of Moncton's Shippagan campus, came up with the idea for the transit system, and began pitching municipalities on it back in 2019.
As an economist focused on economic development and the role of transportation, he said he saw the need through smaller, volunteer-based transit initiatives in rural areas.
While they helped to some degree, he said they weren't fully solving challenges around moving larger segments of the local workforce, or helping newcomers navigate without a car.
"So what we notice is that a lot of people — youth, new immigrants — who arrive, don't stay. So we have a retention problem, and transportation tends to be one of those issues that if you don't have a steady income and you don't have the ability to to drive, then it's a losing proposition to stay here," Bourgeois said.
"And once municipalities realized that they were going to have a darnedest time in terms of retaining these youth and new Canadians, without these alternative forms of transportation to the to the private vehicle, then they started warming up in a hurry to the project."
Bourgeois said the ultimate goal is to help communities in the Acadian Peninsula not only retain new and existing residents, but also to grow.
"If you can provide these alternate forms of transportation to these populations that suffer from car anxiety, or who just squarely leave the region … it will help our communities attain demographic and economic objectives."