The owner of Maritime Bus announced he will be keeping two key bus routes operational in New Brunswick until the end of the month as he seeks financial help from the provincial government.
Mike Cassidy told Global News ridership on his buses, which service New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, plummeted from 191,000 patrons in 2019 to 69,000 in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He said he first approached the provinces for financial support in April. All three provinces agreed to a month-long pilot project at that time.
But when it came time to renew the program, Cassidy said he was told the New Brunswick government would not offer a subsidy to a for-profit company.
Maritime Bus announced Jan. 5 it would halt Fredericton-Edmundston and Moncton-Campbellton runs on Jan. 15. Two other runs would also see service reduced.
“I can’t keep going without some form of grant subsidy help,” Cassidy said. “And with New Brunswick not having the right policy in grant subsidies to for-profits, we had to come out with this press release where we had to come off the highways.”
In a followup release Thursday, Cassidy postponed the route cuts until Jan. 31. He said there is a sense of optimism for a solution.
Part of that optimism has come from municipalities that would be potentially impacted by cuts.
Michel Soucy, mayor of Atholville, N.B., and the president of the Association francophone des municipalités du Nouveau-Brunswick (AFMNB), said his organization has held discussions with its Anglophone counterpart, the Union of Municipalities of New Brunswick (UMNB) and the Cities of New Brunswick Association about ways to help.
Soucy said the bus service is critical to rural and northern New Brunswick. He said previous cuts to VIA Rail and airline services have left bus routes as the only means of transportation for many residents who often use the service to travel to necessary medical appointments.
“Really, what I’m hearing is that some people will be caught in a situation of how they will have access to get to those visits, which we find is essential for them,” Soucy said. “If that service comes out… unfortunately, there will be some people that will have a serious problem.
“We’re doing our best to find solutions here. We want to be at the table.”
Soucy said federal, provincial and municipal leadership needs to be involved in keeping the buses running.
“There appears to be a spirit amongst all parties to arrive at an agreed-upon funding model to keep Maritime Bus on the road in New Brunswick,” Cassidy said in a news release announcing the delay in cuts.
Premier Blaine Higgs, speaking at Thursday’s New Brunswick COVID-19 briefing, would not commit provincial dollars to Maritime Bus, but he did say federal funding programs, designed to help companies survive and emerge from the pandemic, could be applied in this case.
“I know that discussions are underway with municipalities and the joint effort there of identifying the needs and the routes that are important to keep open,” HIggs said. “And I would guess that would be resolved certainly within the next week. And that we will be able to use restart funds that are available to communities as part of that initiative.”
Green Party Leader David Coon says the province needs to offer immediate and longer-term support to the bus service.
“Public transportation is a public good, that needs to be publicly funded,” Coon said in a release, adding that public transportation is 50 per cent publicly funded “everywhere else in Canada,” except New Brunswick.
“(Higgs) can use the carbon tax windfall from the federal government to keep the buses running, and then earmark 2 cents per litre of the carbon tax on gasoline to ensure we have the public transportation infrastructure needed so that people can get to where they need to go.”