Atlantic Transport News – June 2021

Welcome to the June edition of Atlantic Transport News!

Here’s a look at what you’ll find in this edition:

DECISION MAKERS NEED PASSION AND COMMITMENT SAYS MOTORCOACH INDUSTRY LEADER

Maritime Bus owner Mike Cassidy (second from left) wants to hand over a successful motorcoach business to his sons Ryan, Matthew and Stephen – but he fears for the future of the industry because governments aren’t taking the public need seriously.  PHOTO – Maritime Bus

There’s an evident lack of passion and commitment about the public transportation needs of Canadians among key government decision makers, according to the Prince Edward Island entrepreneur who rescued line-haul motorcoach service in the Maritimes from the brink of oblivion nine years ago. Mike Cassidy was guest speaker at the virtual annual general meeting of Transport Action Canada held on May 27. 

In an hour-long “fireside chat” with TAC members, the Maritime Bus owner expressed his frustration with all the politics inherent in the struggle to re-establish a coast-to-coast network of motorcoach operators to transport both people and parcels between communities that are badly underserved by public transportation. Mr. Cassidy is one of several independent bus company operators from across the country that are working together in an effort to jointly assemble a coherent national system from the wreckage left in the wake of Greyhound’s abandonment of its Canadian operations.

Although the technology exists to establish an integrated system for reservations and package interlining, the support of governments – especially the Government of Canada – is essential to make it happen, he insists. And there’s little indication of any appetite or sense of urgency at the top. While some individual politicians, including some Liberal MPs, have been supportive, there’s no passion for public transportation among those with the authority to make decisions and who ultimately control the purse-strings.

There is indication that the federal government’s new Rural Transit Fund is only available for non-profit organizations, which could be another nail in the coffin for companies like Maritime Bus. Senior officials are evidently not prepared to acknowledge that commercial motorcoach operators are in dire straits and in need of a helping hand because of the pandemic. His company was modestly profitable prior to 2020, Mr. Cassidy says, and he’s built his business on passion and a commitment to the industry. He’s proud of the fact that he was able to succeed where big corporations like the multi-national transportation giant Keolis could not. And during the COVID crisis buses have continued to carry people to their destinations when trains and flights have been suspended. Now should have been the time to invest in motorcoach, but it is not happening. Even Greyhound’s demise has not been enough to ignite the passion. 

“I just wish the Canadian government believed in Canadian bus companies,” he concluded, adding that a modest investment of $30 million over ten years would be sufficient to restart and maintain the coast-to-coast motorcoach system.

-Ted Bartlett

NL MOTORCOACH OPERATOR MAY BE FORCED TO SHUT DOWN

Despite several interruptions during COVID-19 peaks, DRL Coachlines has for the most part maintained its daily service across Newfoundland. But ridership is a fraction of pre-pandemic levels, and mounting losses may soon force the company to shut down. PHOTO – Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board

The owner and general manager of the motorcoach company that operates a 900 km daily service on the Trans-Canada Highway across Newfoundland’s cross-island bus line says ridership has hit rock bottom because of COVID-19. Without some form of financial relief from government, Jason Roberts says the mounting losses may force his operation to shut down as early as this month.

“It’s very, very disheartening,” he told CBC News, adding that he’s been asking both the federal and provincial governments for months to extend a helping hand that would enable his company to weather the pandemic storm – but to no avail.

There’s plenty of precedent for taxpayer assistance to for-profit companies during the pandemic, Mr. Roberts said, pointing to massive federal bailouts for air carriers and interim funding offered for bus operations by provincial governments in the Maritimes.

“Everyone’s trying to stay put as much they can so, I don’t expect them to travel, but the ones who got to travel, they still need a means to go,” he said, adding that if he has to suspend DRL’s daily services, it might not make sense to start them up again a few months down the line. “It’s not going to be easy to pick it up and put it back on the road, and make it something that’s going to be very flourishing again, so it’s very important for us to keep going,” he said. DRL acquired the trans-island bus service from newly-privatized Canadian National in 1997. The so-called “Roadcruiser Service” had replaced the CN passenger train in 1969, and federal government responsibility to ensure continuing service at fares consistent with passenger rail elsewhere in Canada was acknowledged in the 1988 federal-provincial Memorandum of Understanding that provided for final abandonment of the Newfoundland Railway.

LITTLE GOOD NEWS FOR REGION AT VIA PUBLIC MEETING

When VIA’s Ocean returns post-pandemic, it will have a different look and feel – and be lacking certain amenities. However, the company is providing few details on its plans for future service, beyond confirming that the train will be back at some point in some form. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

For the second year in a row, VIA’s Annual Public Meeting was an entirely virtual affair, featuring a pre-recorded video update from CEO Cynthia Garneau and other senior VIA management. The 22-minute video, which can be found on both YouTube and the VIA Rail website, offered little by way of specific details, but the overall message was clear – 2020 was an extremely unusual and difficult year for VIA, and the railway isn’t out of the woods yet. Recently released annual and quarterly reports tell much the same story, with ridership plummeting through 2020 as the combination of rail blockades and the pandemic restricted travel and curtailed most of VIA’s services. Still, with the first of the new trains for the Corridor nearly ready to arrive for testing and vaccination roll-outs moving at full speed across the country, there are some reasons to have optimism about things improving in the near future. 

At the time of writing, the Ocean is currently suspended through the end of July 2021. However, with vaccinations continuing at a rapid pace and the various Atlantic provinces unveiling reopening plans that could see less restricted travel from the rest of the country by late July or early August, there is actually some hope that this could really be one of if not the last extensions of the now nearly 16-month service suspension. At TAA’s recent AGM, Philippe Cannon, VIA Rail’s director of public affairs and government relations, explained that the corporation is continuing consultation with representatives from both the New Brunswick and Nova Scotia governments to discuss when conditions will allow the resumption of service. He did acknowledge, however, that the train won’t be back until border restrictions have been lifted and all parties involved are satisfied that it’s safe and feasible to do so.

In addition to the public meeting itself, VIA provided a Q&A document addressing common questions that were submitted in advance of the meeting. As is often the case, the answers were not as thorough as one might hope, nor do they provide much clarification beyond what was already known. For the Ocean, there’s a reiteration of the plan for a bidirectional train using a mix of Renaissance and HEP equipment, but beyond that the answers offer no new details. Responses about whether any sort of dome car will be in the consist to replace the Park car offer only a look at what may be the case while the pandemic is still a concern (and while the Ocean is still unlikely to be running!), and no forward-looking plan. There is also still no commitment to improve service frequency or track conditions, and no further details about what plans may be in place to replace the rapidly deteriorating long distance train fleet. https://corpo.viarail.ca/sites/default/files/media/pdf/speeches/2021%20Annual%20Public%20Meeting_VIA%20Rail_Q&A_EN.pdf

At the very least, both the comments in the public meeting itself and the Q&A document reiterated a commitment to restore service on the Ocean – albeit at the inadequate tri-weekly schedule in place since 2012 – as soon as conditions allow. One answer in the Q&A document even states that The Ocean is a pillar of VIA Rail’s service offering providing essential intercity travel as well as attracting tourists from around the world. VIA Rail remains committed to serving communities in Eastern Canada, and to a full recovery of this route when conditions will allow it”. Now if only VIA would actually treat the Ocean as though it were the “pillar” that they claim it to be, by making the service offering more attractive and useful to the communities it serves!

-Tim Hayman

TWO VIA STATIONS IN NORTHERN NB FACE DEMOLITION

The VIA Rail station in Jacquet River NB is shown in happier times, about 15 years ago, when the Canadian flag was still proudly flown on the property. Unstaffed for many years and with no apparent community interest, the structure is one of two on the Ocean route reportedly slated for demolition. PHOTO – Steve Boyko Collection

Two unstaffed VIA Rail stations in northern New Brunswick are about to be demolished, according to informed sources in the area. The “request stops” for the Ocean at Charlo and Jacquet River, two small communities located between Bathurst and Campbellton, have been unstaffed for many years. The sources are telling TAA that there’s been no apparent interest from either community in taking over the facilities, as has been done with some other stations in the Maritimes and elsewhere where there wasn’t sufficient traffic to warrant the continued presence of VIA employees.

The buildings have reportedly been deteriorating over time, particularly at the Jacquet River location where the roof is said to be in need of major repairs if the building were to be once again made available as a shelter for rail travellers. TAA was not able to confirm reports that tenders had been called by VIA for demolition of the buildings, and at this writing there had been no response to questions directed to the company. It is not known if the Ocean will continue to stop on request at Jacquet River and Charlo when it returns to service post-pandemic.

LIVELY DISCUSSION AT TAA’S VIRTUAL ANNUAL MEETING

Perhaps the current federal government really does believe that Canada ends at Quebec City – at least as far as political influence is concerned. That not-so-encouraging thought was just one of many that emerged during Transport Action Atlantic’s annual general meeting held on May 15. For 2021 the AGM was once again a virtual affair, using the Zoom platform. The now-familiar technology, which admittedly lacks the social benefit of face-to-face contact, does have the advantage of enabling participation by members for whom distance might make attending an in-person meeting difficult or impossible. The online turnout was quite impressive, with representation from all four Atlantic provinces – and beyond.

University of New Brunswick economist Herb Emery told the meeting that the Trudeau Government appears to be firmly focused on the vote-rich territory of Canada’s six largest urban areas. That makes it extremely challenging for smaller cities to get attention, and to reap a fair share of infrastructure funding.

UNB’s Dr. Herb Emery says the Trudeau government is focusing heavily on Canada’s six largest urban centres, to the detriment of smaller cities and rural areas.

TAA’s old familiar refrain that “Canada doesn’t end at Quebec City” would seem to be well directed, Dr. Emery suggested. He senses it will be an uphill struggle to persuade the federal cabinet to invest in “building back better” through climate-friendly projects such as passenger rail and public transit outside the areas of the country that they evidently have identified as priorities.

Meanwhile, the transportation implications of “The Big Reset” – Newfoundland and Labrador’s recently unveiled economic recovery report – were reviewed by TAA board member Tom Beckett. He told the meeting that there are many aspects or opportunities missing or overlooked in the document, noting that the work was directed from the UK by ex-pat Newfoundlander Dame Moya Greene, former head of both Canada Post Corporation and Britain’s Royal Mail, who is known as a strong supporter of privatizing public services.

Included in the report are a suggested 1.5 cents per litre tax on gasoline, a recommendation to support electric car adoption (without the recognition of a need to replace the gasoline tax as electric vehicles become a larger portion of the fleet), an acknowledgement the provincial ferry service is very expensive, and an obvious statement that the provincial road system is quite large and costly to maintain.

One missed opportunity, according to Tom Beckett, is the new ro-ro ferry service between NL and the French enclave of St. Pierre off the island’s south coast, which now can accommodate all vehicles up to and including transport trucks. St. Pierre itself has a trans-Atlantic marine service subsidized by France which has plenty of room on the return crossing.

“This places the EU directly accessible to Newfoundland through Fortune. Live Fortune Bay lobster in Paris, Newfoundland beverage alcohol on the Champs-Élysées, and other products routed to new EU markets. More money in the pockets of Newfoundlanders,” he said. “St. Pierre also has seasonal service by Air France. This provides a spectacular opportunity to draw tourists into the province. Perhaps a strategic private sector partnership orchestrated by government but funded entirely with private sector capital?”

The Big Reset makes no mention of the need to get the 65% cost recovery on Marine Atlantic rates reduced substantially to the benefit of the entire economy, or the significant savings on school busing that could be attained by providing Metrobus passes and service within St. John’s and Mount Pearl. Tom also suggested that significant revenue could be obtained from placing a small toll of perhaps a dollar a trip on the four-lane divided highways in the northeast Avalon which have free alternatives – a concept similar to the 407 north of Toronto. Finally, there is no suggestion of incorporation of transportation elements into the provincial pandemic recovery.

SAINT JOHN AND HALIFAX DIVIDED ON US RAIL MERGER

Hapag-Lloyd’s Liverpool Express docked at Saint John on May 27, the first arrival in the shipping line’s new Mediterranean Canada service. CP Rail is heavily promoting its renewed connection with the port (through Irving-owned NB Southern) as part of its “East Coast Advantage”. Saint John is the only port in the Maritimes served by both of Canada’s major railways. PHOTO – Port of Saint John

A multi-billion dollar battle between Canada’s two major railways over a potential merger with smaller US carrier Kansas City Southern has put Atlantic Canada’s two largest seaports in opposing corners. The high-stakes conflict began when Canadian Pacific and KCS made their merger plans known earlier this year. It was too much for arch-rival Canadian National, which promptly countered with a higher bid that was ultimately accepted by the KCS board of directors. CP declined to sweeten its offer, expressing confidence that the CN proposal would not get the approval of US regulators.

Kansas City Southern serves multiple destinations in Mexico, so the merged railway would link all three countries in the North American free trade pact – a substantial competitive advantage.

Some three decades after selling its “short line” to the Maritimes, CP is now once again involved with the Port of Saint John in a big way through its connection with the JD Irving-owned shortline NB Southern. Although CN also runs to Saint John, it is the only railway serving Halifax. As might be expected, both the Nova Scotia government and the Halifax Port Authority are strongly supporting the CN bid.  Premier Iain Rankin has written a letter backing CN’s proposal.

“Any growth in the CN network is a growth opportunity for the Port of Halifax,” said port CEO Capt. Allan Gray in an interview with CBC News. “We’re reaching deeper into the U.S. market. So this is a whole new market space for the Port of Halifax.”

Meanwhile, New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs has written to US regulators, urging them to reject the CN bid.

UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDS ATLANTIC BUBBLE

The four Atlantic provincial governments seem to be on different pages when it comes to an Atlantic Bubble agreement for summer 2021. While NB appears poised to allow visitors from PEI without quarantine in the first half of June, crossing Confederation Bridge in the reverse direction without restriction may not be possible until much later. NS and NL also have varied recovery plans that threaten to complicate summer travel between provinces. PHOTO – Maritime Bus

With summer in the air, an Atlantic Bubble that would permit unrestricted travel among the four provinces is far from a done deal. Originally planned to launch on April 19, the agreement that was so successful in 2020 has now been postponed twice. The sudden and severe third wave of COVID-19 in Nova Scotia truly upset the apple cart, and blossom time was devoid of out-of-province visitors. In fact, for most of May even travel between adjacent communities in the fabled Annapolis Valley or elsewhere in NS was prohibited.

As the calendar turned into June, the overall case count in the region had improved considerably, but each provincial government seemed intent on a different path for return to normalcy. On June 1, NS was reporting 369 active cases – down by nearly half from the beginning of May. It had peaked at well over 1500 at mid-month. NL reported 90 cases – up from 33 on May 1 – resulting from outbreaks in the central and western regions of the province. NB’s count was essentially unchanged at 142, while PEI had only four cases, down from 12 a month earlier.

In 2020 a remarkable spirit of co-operation led to a highly-successful four-province agreement that attracted national attention. By allowing freedom of movement at a time when COVID case counts were relatively low throughout the region, many tourism operators were able to salvage at least something from the summer and fall seasons. Despite a few bumps in the road, Atlantic Canada is still in a relatively good situation, but some alarming occurrences since late last year have apparently made officials and politicians nervous. In addition, there are two new premiers who are still feeling their way through difficult times. In Nova Scotia, Iain Rankin is being quite cautious about opening his province to visitors, while Premier Andrew Furey seems to have yielded somewhat to tourism industry advocates who want to see NL opened to the rest of Canada this summer. However, barring a change of heart, it would appear that visitors from Ontario won’t be able to travel through Nova Scotia to get to Newfoundland. There’s also an evident lack of reciprocity between New Brunswick and PEI. And the situation seems to get ever more complicated as the peak travel season approaches. The earliest suggested date for a 2021 Atlantic Bubble is now July 1 – but that’s certainly not carved in stone.

All this has serious implications for transportation companies, as well as tourism operators. There have already been postponements of announced start-ups and restarts of air services around the region, motorcoach services in the Maritimes remain on a four-days-per-week schedule and the line-haul operator in Newfoundland says it may have to shut down entirely by the end of June if some financial relief isn’t forthcoming. Meanwhile, VIA Rail has confirmed that its return to service in the region will not happen until travel restrictions between Quebec and New Brunswick are lifted.

AGM Reminder! Saturday, May 15, 2021

Don’t forget! Transport Action Atlantic’s Annual General Meeting will be happening via Zoom on Saturday, May 15, 2021. The meeting will begin at 2pm Atlantic time.

If you want to attend, you will need to register before the meeting begins. If you’re on our mailing list, you should already have received an invitation by email with a link to register. If you didn’t, please email us at atlantic@transportaction.ca.

For those of you planning to join us, here is the tentative agenda for Saturday’s virtual meeting:

TRANSPORT ACTION ATLANTIC
ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING

Saturday, 15 May 2021 1400 hours (Atlantic)
VIA ZOOM

TENTATIVE AGENDA

  1. Call to order/welcome
  2. Regrets
  3. Adoption of agenda
  4. Minutes of previous AGM (17 October 2020) – as circulated (SEE BELOW)
  5. Business arising from minutes
  6. President’s report
  7. Vice-President’s report
  8. Treasurer’s report
  9. Auditor’s Report
  10. Appointment of auditor
  11. Membership Report
  12. Nominating committee report/election of directors
  13. John Pearce Award
  14. New business
  15. Presentations and Discussion (tentative)
     Outlook for the Ocean (Philippe Cannon, VIA Rail)
     Viewliner – an Option for VIA? (Ted Bartlett)
     Public transit for the Acadian Peninsula (Yves Bourgeois)
     NL’s “Big Reset” and Transportation (Tom Beckett)
  16. Adjournment at 1630

The minutes of the 2020 meeting can be found for your review here.

Atlantic Transport News – May 2021

Welcome to the May edition of Atlantic Transport News!

Here’s a look at what you’ll find in this edition:

ATLANTIC BUBBLE OFF THE AGENDA – FOR NOW

A dark cloud of COVID uncertainty hangs over Atlantic Canada’s vital tourism industry for summer 2021. The reopening of the Atlantic Bubble has been postponed indefinitely by the pandemic’s third wave. PHOTO – NS Tourism

It was over before it even started. The now-famous Atlantic Bubble, designed to permit freedom of movement during the pandemic among the four Atlantic provinces without requirement to self-isolate, had been set to reopen on Monday, April 19. But COVID-19 began rearing its ugly head in the region once again, this time featuring more transmissible forms of the virus. On April 13 the Council of Atlantic Premiers agreed to delay the reopening by at least two weeks (to May 3rd) – with that date subject to change should new pandemic concerns emerge.

And emerge they did, with alarming suddenness. Faced with a record-breaking surge in new cases in Nova Scotia, the premiers quickly decided to defer any further discussion of the bubble until the threat of further outbreaks has been reduced, based on advice from the region’s chief medical officers of health. They agreed that the most recent outbreaks, accelerated by emerging variants of concern, made it necessary to maintain restrictions on non-essential travel within the region.

As of May 1, the active case count in the four provinces had soared to nearly five times the number reported at the beginning of April. Of the total 899 known cases, 713 were in Nova Scotia, up exponentially from the 24 a month previous. Furthermore, based on current trends, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Robert Strang was warning Nova Scotians to expect large numbers of new confirmed cases in coming days, because of a substantial backlog in obtaining test results.

Elsewhere in the region, New Brunswick’s total remained the same as on April 1 – 141 active cases. Newfoundland and Labrador stood at 33, up from just 4 a month previously, and PEI remained essentially unchanged with 12 known active cases. On the positive side, the vast majority of new cases in those three provinces were either close contacts of previously diagnosed patients or were travel-related. And even Nova Scotia’s case count on a per capita basis paled in comparison to that of Alberta – 72 cases per 100,000 people versus 289 per 100,000 in the hardest-hit western province.

Needless to say, transportation operators in the region continue to be severely impacted by the pandemic. At this writing it is unclear if the planned restart of some suspended air services would proceed on the previously announced timetable, although it was still possible to make early May bookings between Halifax and St. John’s on WestJet’s promised restored service. Fares, however, appeared to be substantially higher than pre-pandemic levels. New offerings recently announced by PAL Airlines were also still available for booking.

Meanwhile, Maritime Bus remains only a four-days-per-week operation, and VIA Rail has further extended the suspension of its Ocean until at least July 1. The train last ran on March 13, 2020. VIA hasn’t said so, but it appears a return to service is unlikely until travel restrictions between Quebec and the Maritimes are lifted.

CASE COUNT UPDATE:

As of Friday afternoon, May 7, the COVID-19 case count in Nova Scotia was continuing to soar, with 1464 active cases reported – more than double the number at the beginning of the month.  A further tightening of border restrictions was announced, effective May 10th. The active case count in NL also increased to 63, with concern expressed about the impact of travel. Numbers for NB and PEI remained essentially unchanged, at 140 and 10, respectively.

TRUCKS ONLY ON PEI-NS FERRY AS 2021 SEASON STARTS

MV Confederation is the only ferry running between Wood Islands PEI and Caribou NS this month, and the seasonal service is limited to large commercial trucks only because of COVID-19 restrictions.  PHOTO – Northumberland Ferries

The seasonal ferry between eastern Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia’s Pictou County will not be carrying any passengers for the first month as it commences its 2021 schedule. 

“Under the guidance of the Chief Public Health Officer in Prince Edward Island and the Chief Medical Officer of Health in Nova Scotia, service to travellers other than large commercial trucks (larger than 30’ in length) and their drivers is not yet permitted,” according to a notice on the Northumberland Ferries website.

The federally-funded service has operated since the early 1940s as an alternative to the constitutionally-guaranteed route between Borden PEI and southeastern New Brunswick (originally also a ferry, that was replaced by the Confederation Bridge in 1997). It normally makes multiple daily crossings for about eight months each year, starting in mid-spring. This year, however, there will be just four return trips five days a week, with no weekend service before June.

Company vice-president Don Cormier said they anticipate the scaled-down service will handle about 400 trucks a week. Despite the restrictions, there will be limited food service on board to make it easier for drivers to deliver their loads and get back to their point of origin without need to visit restaurants.

CHIGNECTO ISTHMUS REPORT EXPECTED THIS MONTH

VIA train 14 traverses the Isthmus of Chignecto at extremely close quarters with an exceptional Bay of Fundy tide in this 2017 photo. Protecting this vital transportation corridor against the effects of climate change is expected to be a costly proposition.

The long-awaited report on the vulnerability of the Chignecto Isthmus – the narrow low-lying land between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick – is now expected to be revealed by the end of May. The vital transportation corridor which carries both the CN Halifax-Moncton mainline and the Trans-Canada Highway is under threat from rising sea levels. During extreme high tides, the rail bed actually serves as a dyke that prevents the highway from being overwhelmed. The highway and rail line between them carry an estimated $20 billion worth of commerce each year, so it is a matter of considerable concern for the entire region. The report, commissioned early in 2020, is expected to propose several possible remedial alternatives, but the larger question will likely be how to fund the necessary work.

NEW INTERMODAL HUB PROPOSED FOR SAINT JOHN

A conceptual rendering of the proposed Lancaster Logistics Park development, featuring intermodal transportation (truck and rail), as provided by J.D. Irving, Limited.

It would seem that there’s a potent new player about to enter the domestic intermodal business in the Maritimes. J.D. Irving, Limited (JDI) is proposing to redevelop the former Canadian Pacific railyard property in the Lancaster area of West Saint John into a new intermodal and logistics hub.

The property became a part of the JDI empire when CP Rail bailed out of operations east of Montreal nearly three decades ago, and the Irvings purchased the trackage between Brownville Junction, Maine, and Saint John. It has operated ever since under the NB Southern brand. But CP has evidently had a major  change of heart, and has reacquired the line from Montreal to Brownville, plus further trackage extending its reach to Searsport. The Port of Saint John is clearly important to CP these days as well, as it is shown on the map of destinations served. 

“This is an exciting growth opportunity for Saint John and the community,” says Wayne Power, Group Vice President, Transportation and Logistics, with JDI. “As intermodal transportation continues to grow, regions with robust and connected intermodal transportation networks will be in a strong competitive position and will enjoy the economic benefits that come along with that.”

According to a media release, the project is expected to reduce long-haul trucking, lowering New Brunswick’s carbon footprint, while creating 17 full-time railway positions and 30 full-time short-haul driver positions. Aligned with the Port of Saint John Modernization Project and City of Saint John’s goal to be a global transportation hub, the proposed logistics park would also improve supply chain and competitiveness for local industry.

It would appear that CN will soon have some serious competition in the domestic intermodal business. We expect to have further details in next month’s newsletter.

CODIAC TRANSPO PROGRESSING SLOWLY TOWARD NORMAL

Four new Nova buses have joined the Codiac Transpo fleet in the past month, but it won’t mean additional service as four older vehicles will be retired. A more modern fleet helps improve the quality of service, and lowers operating costs. PHOTO: Codiac Transpo

Service levels at Greater Moncton’s Codiac Transpo will soon take another step toward full service restoration, with the addition of 65 service hours per week. The changes will restore service to 75% of pre-pandemic levels by early June.

Moncton City Council unanimously approved the “phased approach” which will add midday service on feeder routes where there is presently a gap of several hours.  The Amalgamated Transit Union, although pleased at the added service hours, wants the return to full operations accelerated further. The ATU believes actual ridership is currently higher than Codiac Transpo data indicates, because less than half the fleet have traffic counters installed.

Meanwhile, the transit agency has made a number of routing changes in recent month in its effort to increase ridership and better serve the tri-communities. Operations manager Alex Grncarovski says the biggest step has been the creation of a single through route from the Champlain Place in Dieppe to Plaza Boulevard in Moncton’s north end, operating on a 13-minute headway for 16 hours each day, Monday through Saturday. Mr. Grncarovski, who previously worked for the Toronto Transit Commission, describes it as a “big city model on a small city budget” with a high-frequency trunk line interfacing with feeder routes resulting in faster service overall. Three former separate routes have also been combined into one, on a 30-minute headway. He says early numbers have been quite positive, although he acknowledges that people will need time to wrap their heads around the new schedules.

TAA’s 2021 AGM TO BE HELD ONLINE

A panel discussion at Transport Action Atlantic’s last in-person annual general meeting in May of 2019. This year’s event will be a virtual one, using the now-familiar Zoom platform.

COVID-19 has once again required Transport Action Atlantic to resort to technology for its annual general meeting.  In accordance with ongoing public health precautions, this year’s AGM will be held virtually using the ZOOM platform on Saturday, May 15, beginning at 1400.

The agenda includes annual reports and financial statements, appointment of an auditor, election of a board of directors, and any other business that may arise.

Current members of Transport Action Atlantic may nominate (with their consent) any other member in good standing for a position on the board. It is the board’s responsibility to choose the executive officers. Nominations should be made in advance of the meeting, and may be submitted by mail to the TAA Nominating Committee, P.O.Box 268, Dartmouth NS B2Y 3Y3, or by e-mail to donlinmacleod@ns.sympatico.ca.

Besides the required business, there will be a number of presentations focusing on critical public transportation issues in our region, with ample opportunity for questions and discussion. TAA members for whom we have an e-mail address will automatically receive an invitation to the meeting. As always, our AGM is open to the general public and the media, and anyone interested should request credentials by e-mail to atlantic@transportaction.ca.