Green party leader says Maritime Bus service reductions will reduce access to healthcare

Riders board Maritime bus in 2018. Global News

Maritime Bus announced Tuesday that it will reduce service within New Brunswick in an effort to minimize operating costs impacted by COVID-19.

According to David Coon, the Leader of New Brunswick’s Green Party and MLA for Fredericton-South, this change will substantially reduce access to health care services for New Brunswickers of modest means.

“Public transportation is an essential service for anyone who cannot afford to own a car or is unable to drive,” said Coon in a statement. “I am calling on Premier Higgs to join with his colleagues in Nova Scotia and PEI to negotiate a contribution agreement that will keep the buses on our roads, just as Premiers King and McNeil already have done.”

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In a statement, Maritime Bus Founder Mike Cassidy said that from March 2020, when the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak took hold, the company has seen the operating costs to be consistently higher than revenue, which has forced him to reduce the kilometres travelled within New Brunswick.

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In an interview Tuesday, Cassidy said the number of passengers fell from 191,000 in 2019 to just 69,000 in 2020.

“For eight years we built a break-even, intercity essential service moving passengers and parcels throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and into Quebec and Ontario. We never asked for a government cent,” he said.

However, Cassidy said in December he had no choice but to ask the three Maritime governments for subsidies to help his struggling business.

He says Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island agreed to help in a three-way deal, but New Brunswick said it has a policy of not providing grant subsidies to for-profit companies.

Cassidy said that as a result, he was forced to amend schedules after learning New Brunswick’s position.

He says Maritime Bus is ending service on the routes between Campbellton and Moncton and between Fredericton and Edmundston.

Cassidy says the company will no longer have direct routes between Fredericton and Saint John and Fredericton to Moncton. Instead the route will be lengthened to take in the three cities.

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Cassidy said the last three weeks have been “gut-wrenching” as he had to decide to reduce service.

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“I was asking for less than $100,000 a month over an eight-month period – May to December, 2020,” Cassidy said.

He was asking a similar amount from Nova Scotia and a smaller amount from P.E.I. Cassidy said he’ll go back to seeking a two-province deal with those provinces, but without changing the amount of money he is seeking from each province.

“Islanders and Haligonians will be able to take the bus to Moncton, Saint John or Fredericton for treatment, but if you live in Campbellton, Miramichi, Edmundston or Perth-Andover, you’re going to have to hitch-hike, if you can’t drive, in order to access cancer treatment, cardiac care or specialized rehabilitation services,” Coon said.

Cassidy said that he wants to take “the high road” by staying in business until the company is back to the new normal of people travelling again.

“When certain stakeholders and political decision-makers are in a better place and a better frame of mind to make impactful social community decisions, … it goes without saying Maritime Bus optimistically hopes public bus transportation will be a key strategic component in future community connectivity discussions,” he added.

Asked about support for Maritime Bus during a news conference Tuesday, Higgs said it appears the company got support of about $160,000 in March.

“It seems the financial situation was strained even prior to COVID,” he said.

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He said the latest application for assistance was not “COVID-related, as such” and falls into a different category.

-With files from the Canadian Press