Nova Scotia

Carpool Cape Breton: Rotational workers join forces after loss of flight service in Sydney

Cape Breton rotational workers are banding together to save time and money driving back and forth to Halifax to catch flights now that the island is cut off from passenger air travel.

Facebook group aims to connect workers with matching schedules

Cape Breton rotational workers and their families are setting up carpools as a way to save money and time now that it's necessary to drive to Halifax to catch a flight. (CBC)

Cape Breton rotational workers are banding together to save time and money driving back and forth to Halifax to catch flights now that the island is cut off from passenger air travel.

Jessica Johnson of Sydney, N.S., wasn't sure what she'd find when she began searching for ridesharing opportunities for her husband, who works as a plumber in Fort McMurray, Alta.

After her husband suggested she look into what others were doing, Johnson posted a note online looking for rotational workers who might be interested in starting a carpooling group. 

The response was overwhelming.

"I was quite surprised to be honest," Johnson said. "My phone was just bing, bing, binging."

It's been nearly three weeks since the last Air Canada passenger airplane took off from the J.A. Douglas McCurdy airport, marking a temporary end to flight services in and out of Sydney.

Air Canada's decision to indefinitely suspend all service in Cape Breton comes after WestJet ended its routes in October. The only air services operating out of Sydney now are cargo planes that visit a few days a week, along with the occasional charter flight and medical evacuation planes.

But there are still plenty of workers in Cape Breton who rely on airplanes to travel back and forth to work sites in western and northern Canada. They are now forced to drive the four hours — on a good day — to Halifax.

Johnson created a private Facebook group where people can post their rotational schedules to see if there are any matches and possibilities to share a ride.

As of Saturday, the "Carpool to and from Sydney-Halifax YHZ" group had 66 members.

Air Canada cuts more flights to Atlantic provinces

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4 months ago
Air Canada has announced another round of service cuts for several communities in Atlantic Canada, a move some fear could spell the end for struggling airports in the region. 1:44

With winter underway, Johnson said getting home from Halifax means extra hours, or even days, on the road for her husband. That also cuts into his time with their two kids, ages 12 and eight.

She hopes the carpools can save people money, and help them travel safely on the roads together.

"It's really sad that you know these people are losing time with their families. And if they can get here sooner than later to be with their family, then that's really what I'm hoping for," Johnson said.

She has already found someone that matches her husband's route, Johnson said, so they're now in the process of co-ordinating next steps. 

No rules prevent carpooling: province

According to provincial spokesperson Marla MacInnis, there are no public health restrictions specific to carpooling in Nova Scotia.

Provincial health officials are instead encouraging residents to keep their close contacts consistent as much as possible. She said people should be thoughtful of the age, health and other social activities of those travelling together.

"It is recommended that everyone wear a mask for additional protection," MacInnis said.

No one should travel with anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or anyone who has been in contact with a known case in the past 14 days.

Josh Rambeau of North Sydney has been working out west and up north for a decade as a health and safety adviser.

He said he's had trouble accessing shuttles and his wife doesn't drive, so carpooling to Halifax seems to be the most viable option. He said money spent on gas and airport parking adds up.

Josh Rambeau is a rotational worker who lives in North Sydney, N.S. (CBC)

He has to spend more nights in hotels in order to catch flights. He has to get back and forth to Halifax on top of his two-day commute to British Columbia.

He thinks the cuts to flight service in Sydney have cost him four or five days with his family.

"That last day you're home, no matter how long you've been doing this, you always get a little pit, a little sick feeling, in your stomach that day before you leave. That doesn't change," Rambeau said. 

"That homesick feeling has just increased."

For anyone looking to get involved with a carpool or start one, Johnson said they should simply request to join the group "and by all means try to hitch a ride."

Before the pandemic, Sydney was served by both Air Canada and WestJet. The airport had regular service to Halifax and Toronto, and seasonally to Montreal. 

With files from Erin Pottie


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