N.B. and P.E.I. governments warm to private sector transit service
Keith Doucette, THE CANADIAN PRESS
Published Wednesday, August 8, 2012 12:26PM ADT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 8, 2012 8:02PM ADT
HALIFAX -- Two of the three provincial governments in the Maritimes say any help for the region's troubled intercity bus service lies in opening up private sector competition, not in providing subsidies or in starting a publicly-funded regional service.
The transportation ministers for New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island said Wednesday they were warm to the idea of allowing private sector involvement to ensure a regional transit service would continue after Acadian Coach Lines shuts its operations down later this year.
Parent company Groupe Orleans Express announced a day earlier that it would shut down the service by Nov. 30 because it couldn't cope with the costs of operating non-profitable routes. It said it had lost close to $12 million since acquiring the bus service in 2004.
New Brunswick Transportation Minister Claude Williams expressed disappointment with the company's decision, but said he understood that many rural routes aren't financially viable.
Williams said his province is conducting its own review of intercity bus regulations and he plans to discuss options with Nova Scotia and P.E.I. over the next few days.
"I'll be talking to my counterparts in the other provinces in an effort to open up the industry to allow small commercial carriers to compete and do business," said Williams.
Bus service is regulated in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia where Acadian Coach Lines has exclusivity on the routes it operates. The company says that exclusivity allows profitable routes to compensate for those that don't make money, particularly those serving communities with small populations, but in the end that didn't prove to be the case.
Williams said the New Brunswick government has ruled out the possibility of subsidizing Acadian Coach Lines and isn't interested in setting up a publicly-funded service with other provinces.
P.E.I. Transportation Minister Robert Vessey also said a solution would have to be found in the private sector.
He said his province already subsidizes a public transit system with limited financial resources.
"It's a great opportunity for the private sector to take it and have a look at it with a new business model," said Vessey.
In Nova Scotia, Transportation Minister Maurice Smith was less definitive about what he thought should be done once Acadian Coach Lines closes, but said any solution would have to be agreed upon by all three provinces.
"This is a service that's being cut in all three provinces and I think we are much better off in trying to work together than each individual province going off on its own," Smith said.
A national student group also expressed its concerns over the demise of Acadian Coach Lines.
Rebecca Rose, Maritimes organizer of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the loss of the service would particularly hamper students who rely on buses for transportation.
Rose said it's time governments consider launching a public regional transit service or provincially run operation similar to one in Saskatchewan.
"Without that, we are always going to be running into these problems of these companies going under when they are not able to make a profit off the service," said Rose.
The Crown-owned Saskatchewan Transportation Company operates 29 bus routes and serves 290 communities in that province. It reported a 7.4 per cent increase in ridership last year compared to 2010.