Nova Scotia

Transit Cape Breton can't deal with soaring number of bus passengers, leaves riders stranded on the street

Bus ridership has quadrupled since 2017, and the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's transit system is under strain. Some Cape Breton University students are speaking out in hopes that more buses can be added to the fleet.

CBRM spokesperson says bus ridership has quadrupled in the past 5 years

A study is underway to determine the viability of adding electric buses to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality's diesel fleet. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Some Cape Breton University students are frustrated with overcrowded buses in Sydney, N.S., that cause them to miss school or work. 

Buses often drive by crowded stops because they are already full — leaving potential passengers behind. 

"Four buses came and we were just standing there," said Mansi Shah, a student at CBU who relies on public transit to get to work and school. "We couldn't board one bus out of four buses."

When Shah moved to Sydney in January 2022 to attend Cape Breton University, she wasn't expecting the challenges she faced to find housing, secure employment, and now to catch a bus. 

"It has become an everyday thing," she said. "My work is suffering. If we are reaching an hour late at our work, then there is no use of working at all."

Shah says the bus system became bogged down with the new intake of students at the university in September. 

Out of 5,901 students registered this fall, 3,982 are international students, according to a Cape Breton University spokesperson. 

Out of service

Students get off a bus at Cape Breton University.
Growth in student enrolment at Cape Breton University has outstripped the capacity of Cape Breton Transit. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Drivers turn on an "out of service" sign to notify passengers buses are full.

"Just imagine you're waiting for the bus for a half an hour and you see a bus coming and it says out of service — how bad it is," said Shiva Sai, another student at CBU. 

"It's pretty tough for us to reach, on time, wherever we want to go," he said. 

After being late to school multiple times, he's started taking taxis instead, which adds up. 

"That's really costly from point A to point B, sometimes it takes $12 to $13 or maybe more for the cab services," Sai said. 

Sai hopes the municipality can find a way to add four or five buses to the fleet to meet growing demand.

Multiple issues at play

Christina Lamey, communications officer for the CBRM, said it's not that simple.

She says issues with the transit system are three-fold: ridership has quadrupled over the past five years, government funding is typically targeted toward electric bus fleets and fewer buses are available to purchase due to COVID-related vehicle shortages. 

"Show me a transit system in Canada that's grown by four times its size in the span of a short couple of years," she said.

"It's just not something that the system is necessarily designed to cope with."

Christina Lamey is a spokesperson for Cape Breton Regional Municipality. She says pressure on the transit system stems from rapid growth in ridership. (CBC)

Lamey says meeting the high demand is difficult. There are few diesel buses available and the municipality is not prepared to bring in electric buses yet. 

A study is currently underway to determine the viability of adding electric buses to the fleet, as the municipality looks to move away from diesel fleets.

Amritpal Singh moved to Sydney, N.S., in 2016 and no longer has to rely on the bus. (Submitted by Amritpal Singh)

Lamey acknowledges there are challenges with the transit system.

"It's definitely something that they're working diligently on to get more buses, get newer buses, and keep replenishing the fleet," she said. 

In the meantime, passengers must wait for the next bus, hail a cab or call a friend. 

Shah posted to an international student community Facebook group saying she needed help. 

Amritpal Singh saw her post and remembered how difficult it was to catch the bus when he first moved here in 2016.

He picked her up and dropped her to work. 

"I know that feeling," he said. "So if I can help someone to get relief from it and then why not?"

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