Atlantic Transport News – July/August 2022

Welcome back to Atlantic Transport News! Summer is moving along quickly, and with lots of other things going on outdoors, we’ve decided to combine our July and August news into a single issue. Hopefully you’re able to peruse these stories while relaxing and enjoying the summer days, perhaps even back out and travelling around the country.

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

VIA WOES – SUMMER TRAVEL RETURNS, BUT DELAYS ABOUND

Running 7½ hours late following an altercation with a moose on the Bas-Saint-Laurent, VIA #14 catches the glow of the setting sun arriving at Moncton on July 4. On time performance has been a more severe issue than usual for the Ocean this summer, with missed connections at Montreal and very late arrivals in Halifax being a common occurrence. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

The summer of 2022 has brought a full return of VIA Rail service in Atlantic Canada, even if only at the ever-inadequate tri-weekly schedule of the Ocean, and the travelling public seems to have returned to fill the trains. No doubt buoyed by the resurgence of travel across the board, coupled with delays at airports and shortages of rental cars, the majority of departures in both directions have been nearly or entirely sold out.

Despite the evident demand, VIA has been slow to add capacity. More Chateau sleepers have been added to the Ocean train, but on-board accounts suggest that often only one of these cars is actually in revenue service. This appears to be tied to staffing issues, and VIA’s inability to provide sufficient crew to staff any additional cars that could be added. No doubt the long layoffs and painfully slow return to service, which included an exhausting on-train staff schedule with extended time away from their home terminal, have made it increasingly difficult to retain and attract new on board crews.

Delays have become a chronic issue through the course of the summer. Most recently, track work projects on the Mont Joli subdivision (Mont Joli to Campbellton) are causing routine delays in both directions, typically of at least 2 hours. A notice on Reservia reads “Due to operational issues experienced by the railway infrastructure owner, trains 14 and 15 are expected to incur a delay en route and upon arriving at final destination. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.” Connections in Montreal to trains 65 (for Toronto) and 35 (for Ottawa) have been removed from the reservations system for the time being, recognizing the high likelihood of missed connections. This work is anticipated to be complete by September, but it is certainly an inconvenience during some of the busiest travel time of the year.

Easily the worst example of delays and staffing issues took place on July 22, 2022. VIA 15, scheduled to depart Halifax that day at 13h00, had its departure time pushed back due to “operational issues”. Anecdotal reports from passengers suggest that there was no qualified Service Manager (SM) available to work, which put VIA in the position of either having to find another available SM (a challenge with schedules and few available qualified employees), or run the train without an SM – something the on board employees and union would oppose, and also something that would require authorization from Transport Canada. The result was a cascade of rolling delays that extended, hour by hour, through the entire afternoon and evening. Passengers were provided with extremely little information about what was taking place, and little indication of what their options might be in the long run.

Eventually, passengers in Halifax were allowed to board the train, but a call was made late at night that the train would be cancelled. Passengers were allowed to stay on board overnight, but by the morning they were left to fend for themselves. Refunds and travel credits were issued, but there was little to no assistance with any alternate travel arrangements. Passengers at some stations farther along the line may have been bussed, but this isn’t entirely clear. The train deadheaded back to Montreal the next day, with crew members on board and no passengers.

More details about this experience can be found in this report from a veteran VIA traveller. With the trip proving to be this disillusioning for even a seasoned traveller, one can only imagine how much this experience would do to deter those trying out the train for the first time. It seems that VIA managed to avoid any seriously negative press for this incident, but that is likely just indicative of how miniscule their presence is in the Atlantic Canada transportation scene.

VIA RAIL ANNUAL PUBLIC MEETING – NO IMMINENT IMPROVEMENTS FOR ATLANTIC CANADA, BUT OPTIMISM FOR FLEET RENEWAL

VIA’s Annual Public Meeting Q&A confirms that the Ocean will continue to operate without a dome car, not only on the end, but no mid-train Skyline either. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

VIA Rail’s Annual Public Meeting was held on August 9, 2022. You can watch the live stream of the public meeting at the YouTube link below.

As usual, VIA provided an opportunity for questions to be submitted in advance, and answered some of the most commonly asked questions in a separate Q&A Document.

There were a number of questions related to VIA’s Ocean service and the prospect of any improvements in Atlantic Canada. Unsurprisingly, there’s no indication of any plan to expand services – though there was at least some acknowledgement of the interest in increased frequencies within the region. Even less surprising, there was a further reiteration that any plan for the regional services pitched under the tenure of Yves Desjardins-Siciliano has been suspended, with infrastructure issues (i.e. the high demands from CN) cited as the reason for abandoning the project. On that infrastructure note, there are also no plans for work on the Newcastle Sub to improve trip times, though this would seem to be the most obvious way to speed up travel.

On a disappointing note for passengers, the Q&A confirmed that the Ocean will “continue to operate…without a dome car until further notice”, due to “various factors including operational and equipment considerations.” The equipment considerations may very well be related to the state of the electrical equipment and the ongoing need for refurbishment work. Skyline cars – the mid-train domes that would be most appropriate for the bidirectional Ocean train – have mostly not had any major refurbishment work in recent years, although they were included in VIA’s original plans for an update to the carriages on the service. It certainly seems possible that there may not be sufficient cars in decent condition to meet the demands of both the Canadian and Ocean. Regardless of the reason, this means that all passengers on the train will have to suse two Renaissance service cars instead, which are not as attractive.

Though there’s relatively little to be excited about in this update, there is at least a hint of optimism related to plans for much needed long-distance fleet renewal. In response to a question on the topic, VIA provided this answer:


“Long-distance and regional services are closely linked to our mandate, our mission, our vision and the fleet that runs on these routes will need to be replaced since it is no longer reasonable to extend its operational life.
For these reasons, we have submitted a business case to the federal government, and we look forward to working with the appropriate stakeholders in the Government of Canada during the evaluation of this business case.
The replacement of this fleet will allow VIA Rail to provide a more comfortable, reliable, accessible and sustainable travel experience all the while continuing to contribute to the tourism industry and regional economic development.
We look forward to sharing more details on this process in due course.”

VALUE FOR MONEY IS AN ISSUE FOR MARINE ATLANTIC USERS

Vehicles boarding Marine Atlantic’s MV Atlantic Vision at Argentia NL. The company has seen a drop in its customer satisfaction scores in the first part of 2022, but gets its lowest rating by far on value for money. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

Fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic has apparently had a “statistically significant” impact on how the Marine Atlantic ferry service is perceived by its customers. The Crown corporation published the results of its most recent customer satisfaction survey in the July issue of its employee newsletter.

A random sample of between 100 and 200 customers each month is polled on the company’s behalf by Narrative Research, and the results have been encouraging – until recently. The three-month rolling scores from the May 2022 survey show a number of noteworthy declines that are unlikely to have occurred by chance, with a confidence level of 95%. Marine Atlantic is clearly concerned by the numbers, and management evidently hopes that sharing the data with employees will inspire them not to rest on their laurels in what is predicted to be the busiest tourist season in years.

The survey revealed that a respectable 77% of customers are highly satisfied with their ferry experience, but that’s down by nine percentage points from a year ago. Yet 95.6% of users would recommend Marine Atlantic to others – a statistic that changed very little year over year. In the area of reliability, 81.2% provided a positive rating, down 4.8% from 2021.

But the area where customers are most dissatisfied will come as little surprise. Only 60.1% of customers rate Marine Atlantic’s value for money positively. That’s down 11.4% from last year, and clearly reflects a growing public perception that the ferry rates are far higher than they should be.

Although there has not been an increase in passenger fares since 2019, over the past two decades ferry rates have risen at a rate far in excess of the cost-of-living index. It’s not a matter over which the Crown corporation has direct control, as the cost recovery target for the constitutionally-mandated service is dictated by the Government of Canada. It currently stands at 66% – far higher it was in years gone by. It’s an issue that Transport Action Atlantic has been passionate about for quite some time, and continued political pressure will be necessary to prevent further burdensome rate hikes in future years.

-Ted Bartlett

PEI FERRY BURNS, SUBSTITUTE VESSEL FROM QUEBEC ARRIVES

Smoke billows from the MV Holiday Island, as passenger and crew evacuations were completed just outside of Wood Islands PEI. PHOTO – CBC News, Shane Hennessey

The MV Holiday Island, one of the two ferries plying the Northumberland Strait between NS and PEI, ran into serious trouble on July 22, as a fire broke out in the engine room shortly before arrival in PEI. All 225 passengers on board had to be evacuated, with the aid of the vessel’s lifeboats and some local fishermen. Fortunately, there were no injuries to passengers or crew. With the fire still burning, the vessel remained just outside of the harbour at Wood Islands for two days before the fire could be extinguished, and vehicles could finally be offloaded and returned to their owners. The vessel is now sidelined indefinitely, with the extent of the damage and potential for repairs in need of further evaluation.

With one vessel immediately out of service, Northumberland Ferries Ltd. (NFL) adjusted the sailing schedule to allow the MV Confederation to make more trips during the day and pick up some of the slack. A process was also launched to seek out a potential replacement vessel. In impressively short order, NFL was able to track down a suitable substitute vessel from Quebec. The MV Sareema I, a vessel built in Norway in 2010 and used by Société des traversiers du Québec (STQ) on the Traverse Matane – Baie-Comeau – Godbout crossing, travelled to Caribou NS for testing in the first week of August. If the tests go well and the vessel is able to function with the dock infrastructure, the vessel will enter service on the Northumberland crossing as early as mid to late August.

The MV Sareema I is seen docked at Caribou NS next to the MV Confederation. The vessel could be in service as early as late August if tests go well, and will provide a unique experience for travellers on the route while it substitutes for the MV Holiday Island. PHOTO – CBC News, Patrick Morrell

The MV Holiday Island was already slated for replacement in the 2019 federal budget, but delivery of a new vessel was not expected until 2027. At this stage, it isn’t clear if the Holiday Island will be repaired and returned to service, or if some sort of substitute arrangement will be made until its successor is delivered.

DETAILS REMAIN SCANTY ABOUT WESTJET REFOCUS

Following a “strategic review”, WestJet’s new CEO has announced an operational refocus on Western Canada for the airline – but the implications for Atlantic Canada remain vague. PHOTO – Halifax International Airport Authority

WestJet services to, from and within Atlantic Canada appear to be in for some significant changes, but the full extent of the airline’s planned refocusing of its operations remains unclear. Canada’s second-largest airline announced on June 16 that it plans to concentrate its routes and fleet on its home turf in Western Canada.

Chief executive officer Alexis von Hoensbroech, who joined the company in February, made the announcement following a strategic review. “We think the West has more room for growth for us that the East,” he told the Globe and Mail, announcing that the number of flights within eastern Canada will be reduced while schedules and capacity would be boosted in the airline’s western stronghold. The airline claims it will continue to be a national carrier with a significant presence in Eastern Canada, but primarily through direct connections to western cities.

Exactly what this all means for Atlantic Canada is still unclear, more than a month after the announcement. The original media release (which is no longer available on WestJet’s website) did say its regional fleet of Q400 turboprop aircraft would be “shifted and right-sized” to focus on Western Canada. As of this writing, the indefinite cancellation of the carrier’s services linking Fredericton, Charlottetown and Sydney with Toronto effective in October are the only announced changes for the region. But other routes such as Halifax-St. John’s and Moncton-Toronto also use the WestJet Encore turboprops and could potentially be affected as well. And there’s also the question of the trans-Atlantic flights to and from Halifax. This summer has seen the return of direct services from YHZ to London Gatwick, Dublin, Glasgow and Paris. It remains uncertain whether these will survive the refocusing exercise. It’s already known that two of those routes will be ending earlier than their originally-planned October dates, attributed to operational and crewing challenges that are widespread throughout the commercial aviation industry.

Halifax Airport spokesperson Tiffany Chase confirms that no detailed longer-term plans have yet been forthcoming from WestJet. “We remain in discussions with them to identify the opportunities and benefits Halifax Stanfield provides as a strong partner and market going forward, in alignment with their new strategy, as we have successfully done in the past,” she wrote in an e-mail to TAA. “We can’t say what routes may be affected by their new strategy in future or what new opportunities will emerge – it’s early days on those discussions. I wouldn’t want to speculate at this point about the impact on routes that have been traditionally served by WestJet in our market or who else may fill any gaps.”

One player that may be looking for opportunities arising from WestJet’s new strategy is St. John’s-based PAL Airlines. The growing regional carrier now boats a fleet of seven Q400 planes, as well as six smaller aircraft. PAL’s acting director of business development Stephen Short says their concentration is on what he calls “underserved markets” – one of which is connecting New Brunswick and Newfoundland.
Their plans were disrupted by the pandemic, but the airline is now flying direct between Moncton and St. John’s six days a week, with the same aircraft also providing non-stop Moncton-Ottawa service. In addition there are three round trips per week between YQM and YYT with a stop at Deer Lake, and tri-weekly service between Fredericton and St. John’s, also stopping at YDF.

He’s not disclosing any other opportunities PAL might be eyeing, but points out that they have interline agreements with both major national carriers, enjoy good relationships with airports throughout the region, and are nimble enough to adapt quickly to changing market conditions. He adds that they are committed to further growth in New Brunswick, and capacity and schedules will be dictated by demand. Current schedules are in effect until mid-October.

Meanwhile, the region’s largest airport, Halifax Stanfield, has been spared most of the chaos that has plagued major hubs in Canada and around the world. Mountains of lost or unclaimed luggage and hordes of angry passengers have not been a common sight anywhere in Atlantic Canada, but travellers in this part of the country have not been entirely immune from domino effects resulting from crew shortages and terminal overload at Toronto Pearson and Montreal Trudeau.

Tiffany Chase says YHZ views the rebound in traffic as encouraging, despite the uncertainty about WestJet’s future plans. While both major airlines have cut frequencies on some routes as they grapple with crewing and other challenges, seat capacity reduction has been to some extent offset by the use of larger planes.

“We are excited to see more people travelling through the airport again, for leisure, reconnecting with family and friends, and for business purposes, and we will continue to do everything we can to attract and retain air service connections to key markets and destinations around the world for the benefit of our communities,” she said. Passenger traffic through YHZ in June totalled 333,731, about 15% fewer than the same month in pre-pandemic 2019, but up astronomically from the 21,645 passengers handled in June of 2021.

-Ted Bartlett

PUBLIC TRANSIT: STAFFING ISSUES CAUSE HEADACHES, BUT RIDERSHIP CONTINUES TO RETURN

Halifax Transit has been plagued by staffing issues this summer, leading to cancelled trips. PHOTO – CBC News/Robert Short

The summer of 2022 has seen a resurgence of travel and increasing numbers of passengers on public transit systems, but this positive trend has run up against serious staffing issues across the transportation sector. Labour shortages are an issue in virtually every industry at the moment, but transit systems seem particularly hard hit, owing in part to the turbulent years of 2020-2021 and challenging working conditions that persist today. The union representing Halifax Transit drivers has cited poor pay and a demanding work environment, including frequent mandatory overtime, as factors that have left the agency critically short of front line staff.

Halifax Transit has been forced to continue cutting departures, with cancelled trips now in place on more than 50 routes in the system. Though these service cuts have been planned to try to minimize disruptions by focusing on lesser used departures, they are still having a disruptive impact on the travelling public. Halifax Transit has also postponed all but one of the route changes planned for later this year under the Moving Forward Together Plan.

Codiac Transit’s Route 51, also known as the Green Line, now provides high-frequency service from Plaza Boulevard in Moncton’s North End to Champlain Place in Dieppe from 0600 to 2200 on weekdays, running on headways as close as every 13 minutes in peak periods. Most connecting buses operate every 30 minutes, making transit a more attractive option in New Brunswick’s largest urban centre. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

Despite these challenges, with high gas prices and a continuing return to more aspects of pre-pandemic life, transit agencies throughout the region have been seeing ridership return. Metrobus in St. John’s, NL reported record rider numbers in June, and Greater Moncton’s Codiac Transpo is seeing the same trend as well. Operations manager Alex Grncarovski attributes the upswing to several factors, including the return of many people to their normal workplace, and the high price of gasoline being an incentive to leave cars at home. More frequent service on most routes is also no doubt a contributing factor.

Codiac is also exploring the possibilities for bus electrification, with a study expected to be completed by early 2023. The consultants will determine what’s needed in the way of infrastructure, and identify next steps to get to that point. In the meantime the agency is also having suppliers bring their buses to Moncton for evaluation, including a vehicle that St. John’s is considering for purchase. “Exciting times,” Mr. Grncarovski says.

Back in Halifax, a long-anticipated electronic fare payment system is finally on the way, with a tender out for a mobile fare payment system that could be in place in a few months time. The first phase will involve a mobile app that passengers can use to pay fares and display proof of payment to the driver on boarding. Later phases will move to a more comprehensive electronic fare system, allowing tap card payments on the bus.

TRANSPORT ACTION CANADA LAUNCHES CANADA-WIDE MOTORCOACH SURVEY

Transport Action Canada is inviting Canadians to participate in a research project regarding the public transport needs of Canadians and the state of motorcoach services in Canada following the demise of Greyhound and the impact of the pandemic on Canadian motorcoach operators.

Please take a few minutes to fill out the survey with the information you feel comfortable sharing about your use of motorcoach services, and share this with others across your networks who may also be interested in sharing their views.

TAC Motorcoach Survey

Atlantic Transport News – June 2022

Welcome to the June 2022 installment of Atlantic Transport News! We’ve been running a bit behind this month, so apologies for the delay.

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

NL CABINET MINISTER TAKES A FRESH LOOK AT FERRY RATES

Transporting these commercial trailers across the Cabot Strait would cost considerably less than half the current ferry charges if the “special rates” given to users of the Confederation Bridge were applied to Marine Atlantic. NL cabinet minister Gerry Byrne says the potential impact on the province’s economy is huge. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A veteran Newfoundland politician believes the basis for a new deal that would substantially reduce ferry rates between the island and mainland Canada may be “hiding in plain sight.” Speaking at Transport Action Atlantic’s annual general meeting on May 28, Gerry Byrne, Minister of Immigration, Population Growth and Skills in Premier Andrew Furey’s Cabinet, shed some new light on a little-known clause in the Terms of Union. He believes that particular provision, combined with more recent developments, could potentially go a long way toward levelling the province’s troubled transportation playing field.

TAA is among those who have long argued that the latter-day fathers of confederation who negotiated Newfoundland’s entry as Canada’s tenth province in 1949 had intended that transportation of people and goods across the 100-nautical mile Cabot Strait should cost no more than travelling the equivalent distance by land. Simply put, that implied that Canada would absorb the additional costs of the ferry service. But with the transition of freight traffic to trucks and passenger travel to personal automobiles, the cost to users has escalated dramatically – and particularly so over the past two decades. Transport Canada now insists that Marine Atlantic, the federal Crown corporation that delivers the constitutionally-guaranteed ferry service, must recover 65% of its operating costs.

While some have argued that changes in transportation technology have rendered Term 32 anachronistic, Minister Byrne doesn’t agree. He points to Term 32 (3) in the final draft approved on December 11, 1948. It specifically states that “all legislation of the Parliament of Canada providing for special rates on traffic moving within, into, or out of, the Maritime region will, as far as appropriate, be made applicable to the Island of Newfoundland.” And there are no time limits or exceptions specified.

Here’s where things get interesting: In 1993 Parliament approved just such a piece of legislation. It’s called the Northumberland Strait Crossing Act –the agreement under which the Confederation Bridge replaced constitutionally-guaranteed ferry service to Prince Edward Island. It effectively sets the bridge toll at the level of Marine Atlantic’s 1992 ferry rates between Borden and Cape Tormentine, and specifies that they cannot be increased by any more than 75% of the Cost of Living Index.

Minister Byrne believes that Term 32 (3) entitles Newfoundland and Labrador to the same protection against ferry rate increases that Prince Edward Islanders enjoy under the Confederation Bridge legislation. And, he adds, if the rates between North Sydney and Port aux Basques were rolled back to what users were paying in 1992 – adjusted to 75% of the cost-of-living index – the impact would be dramatic, as shown in this graphic from his PowerPoint presentation.

According to a study conducted by the Conference Board of Canada, the reduced ferry rates would result in the creation of 1237 new jobs in Newfoundland and Labrador; a $147-million increase to the provincial GDP; increased exports of $100 million per year; a substantial increase in tourism opportunities; and an increase in consumer spending capacity of $100 million per year.

“The fight is a political one,” says the Corner Brook MHA, adding he also believes it can withstand any legal challenge that might be mounted. He reports that since the AGM he has been in contact with several leaders within the trucking industry community on the matter, and expressed confidence that his initiative is gaining momentum. However, there’s no public indication as yet that any of his cabinet colleagues have embraced the concept. Premier Furey has so far appeared reluctant to raise the unfulfilled 2015 election promise to address the issue of ferry cost recovery with his federal Liberal counterparts.

A copy of Minister Byrne’s presentation to the TAA AGM can be found in the Documents section of our website.

-Ted Bartlett

NB MLA’s SAGA REVEALS YOU ALMOST CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

Kevin Arseneau, MLA for North Kent in New Brunswick, attempted to travel from his constituency to the legislature in Fredericton this Spring. The trip, just over two hours by car, took 24 hours and cost $200! It required him to begin his journey on Via Rail, departing Rogersville on the Ocean. An overnight stay was then required in Miramichi  and a trip on a local bus to Newcastle next day to connect with Maritime Bus h to Moncton. After a scheduled stopover between coaches, it was on to Fredericton, then a further wait for Fredericton Transit to run him downtown. Kevin clearly demonstrated how difficult it is for anyone without access to a car to travel, even to principal locations in New Brunswick. The journey would have cost $450 by taxi.

If the MLAQ had investigated further, he would have found the adage, “You can’t get there from here!” really does apply when trying to access public transport to  many regions in the province.

You can read more about his saga here: https://greencaucusvert.ca/green-mla-highlights-new-brunswicks-inadequate-public-transportation/

And watch the journey here:

-Michael Perry

VIA’S ANNUAL PUBLIC MEETING IS COMING UP – ASK YOUR QUESTIONS NOW!

VIA Rail Canada will be holding their annual public meeting on Tuesday, August 9, 2022. In addition to the usual updates on VIA’s activities and performance over the past year, the APM will provide an opportunity for VIA to answer some questions asked by members of the public.

Questions can be submitted through VIA’s website HERE.

The submission period ends June 30, so be sure to get your questions in ASAP. This would be an excellent opportunity to ask questions about VIA’s plans for services in Atlantic Canada. Consider questions like:

VIA has acknowledged that the Ocean’s tri-weekly schedule isn’t adequate to serve the travelling public in Atlantic Canada. What plans does VIA have to expand this service to better meet demand?

-Now that the Ocean has lost its Park car and the amenities that come with it, what plan does VIA have to replace these lost amenities, especially to make the service attractive to higher-fare paying passengers?

-The equipment used on the Ocean is in dire need of replacement soon. What are VIA’s plans to replace this aging equipment, to ensure that travellers in Atlantic Canada continue to have access to reliable, accessible, and modern passenger rail service?

The most asked questions will receive answers either during or after the meeting. Though these answers aren’t always comprehensive, it’s worth continuing to ask.

YVES BOURGEOIS IS 2021 JOHN PEARCE AWARD RECIPIENT

Yves Bourgeois of Shippagan NB has been named as the 2021 recipient of Transport Action Atlantic’s annual John Pearce Award for outstanding public transportation advocacy. The award was presented virtually at the TAA annual general meeting on May 28. SUBMITTED PHOTO

A long-time champion of public transportation systems has been chosen to receive Transport Action Atlantic’s annual John Pearce Award for 2021. Yves Bourgeois is the former director of the Urban and Community Studies Institute at UNB Saint John, and is currently dean of studies at the Shippagan campus of the Université de Moncton.

Dr. Bourgeois was recognized for his ongoing promotion of better economic and social outcomes through sustainable transportation access in rural and urban New Brunswick. Most recently he has been the driving force behind a new Acadian Peninsula transportation initiative involving both scheduled and on-demand transportation service between Bathurst and Miramichi, scheduled to begin later in 2022.

Four years ago as chair of the Rural Urban Transportation Advisory Committee Yves led the development of a landmark position paper for New Brunswick’s Economic and Social Inclusion Corporation. The document, entitled From Surfaces to Services: An inclusive and sustainable transportation strategy for the Province of New Brunswick 2017-2037 is an in-depth analysis of transportation needs. While progress has not been as fast as he would have liked, several of the report’s recommendations are being adopted in the Province’s new white paper on municipal reform.

Born in New Brunswick, Yves received his undergraduate degree from U de M in 1993, and went on to earn a masters in philosophy, politics and economics from the University of Oxford, which he attended as a Rhodes scholar. He furthered his studies in the UK with a masters in science and technology at the University of Edinburgh, and completed his PhD in urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, in 2006. He was recently appointed to the Expert Panel on Clean Growth with the Canadian Climate Institute.

The John Pearce Award is given annually to recognize an outstanding contribution to the public transportation cause. It was created by TAA in 2017 to commemorate the lifetime achievements in transport advocacy by the late Mr. Pearce, a founding father of the association’s predecessor Transport 2000 Atlantic, a past president, and long-time member of the board.

TRANSPORT ACTION ATLANTIC CHOOSES NEW PRESIDENT

Tim Hayman of Halifax is the new president of Transport Action Atlantic. A member of the Board of Directors since 2015, he previously served as secretary and vice-president, as well as webmaster. PHOTO – courtesy of Tim Hayman.

There have been some significant leadership changes at Transport Action Atlantic following the association’s annual general meeting and election of the Board of Directors on May 28. Tim Hayman of Halifax was the board’s unanimous choice for president, replacing Ted Bartlett who had earlier made it known he would be stepping down after more than eight years at the helm.

Originally from eastern Ontario, Tim is an marine and fisheries management professional who came to Nova Scotia as a student 15 years ago, and never looked back. He is a committed public transportation advocate, who doesn’t own a car and confesses to having a particular fondness for train travel. He has been member of the TAA board for the past seven years, and has also served as a director of Transport Action Canada. In addition to his ongoing role as webmaster, he’s also previously served as TAA’s secretary and vice-president.

Supporting Tim in his new challenge will be David Brake of St. John’s, who has been named to the newly-created role of communications director. David has a long history in transportation advocacy in Newfoundland and elsewhere, and currently heads the Essential Transit Association in his adopted city, where he also serves on the Challenge Car Culture Task Force. His background in journalism will serve TAA well going forward.

David Brake of St. John’s will serve as TAA’s first-ever communications director. He’s a fan of both two and four-wheeled electric transportation, but his primary interest lies in public transit. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

A former TAA president, Marcus Garnet of Halifax, has offered to serve as vice-president for the coming year, while Michael Perry of Fredericton remains as secretary. Tom Beckett of St. John’s has volunteered for the role of treasurer, replacing Don MacLeod who is retiring from the board after decades of faithful service to the cause. Christine Mills Garnet will continue as membership secretary, while Ted Bartlett plans to continue in a supportive role on several active TAA files as past president.

RAPID FIRE NEWS ROUNDUP

There have been lots of transportation related stories from around the region over the last month. Here are just a few to read through at your leisure.

-Halifax Transit orders electric buses from Nova Bus: https://novabus.com/blog/2022/06/14/nova-bus-announces-its-largest-order-of-electric-buses-in-canada-by-halifax-transit/

-Saint John Transit to pilot electric buses for on-demand service: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/saint-john-electric-buses-1.6483068

-The CAT’s long-awaited return has Yarmouth businesses purring: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/the-cat-brings-early-tourism-season-for-many-yarmouth-businesses-1.6498875

-Miramichi on the move to create walkable, bikeable city: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/miramichi-trails-construction-nb-1.6502410

Atlantic Transport News – May 2022

Welcome to the May 2022 installment of Atlantic Transport News!

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

TRANSIT AGENCIES STRUGGLE AMID RECORD FUEL PRICES

Public transit – just recovering from devastating COVID deficits – faces another budget crisis amid soaring prices for diesel fuel, and there’s apparent reluctance on the part of most provincial governments to come to the rescue. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The soaring price of diesel fuel is having a severe effect on already-struggling municipal and urban transit systems and intercity bus operators in Atlantic Canada.  In most areas, the price per litre is at least a dollar higher than it was at the beginning of the year. In both New Brunswick and Newfoundland cities are calling on their provincial governments to take advantage of federal joint funding offers to help transit.

In St. John’s alone, Metrobus is predicting fuel costs will push the system $1.4 million over budget unless fares are raised or service reduced – which neither the agency nor City Hall wants to do. So far there’s no sign the Province is prepared to respond favourably. In fact, even though private autos and light trucks are getting a 50% rebate on registration renewals to help offset fuel costs, no such offer has been made with respect to transit vehicles.

A similar situation exists in New Brunswick, where the Premier Blaine Higgs has reached an agreement with Ottawa, under which federal contributions earmarked for transit and matched by the Province can be used for purposes other than what was originally intended. For NB, that means investment in highways and bridges, including highway twinning. Transport Action Atlantic views this as a most unfortunate turn of events – one that can only strengthen the car culture in a place where residents spend a far higher proportion of their income on motor fuel than any other Canadians.

PEI’S ISLAND TRANSIT REACHES MILESTONE AS ROUTES EXPAND WESTWARD

Funded by the provincial government and operated by Maritime Bus, PEI’s Island Transit now operates from Souris in the east to Tignish in the west. Soaring motor fuel prices are encouraging many islanders to park their cars and use the low-cost subsidized transit service instead. PHOTO – Maritime Bus

Canada’s smallest province continues to be a leader in public transportation. PEI’s Island Transit network was extended to the western end of the province effective 19 April. Residents are now able to effectively travel from one end of the island to the other for just a $2 fare, which includes a transfer to the T3 Transit service in Charlottetown.

Island transit reached a significant milestone on May 10. For the first time, the early morning bus arriving in Charlottetown from Souris had every seat occupied – a strong indication that Premier Dennis King’s transit-friendly policies are having the intended effect. Service in eastern PEI began in October 2021, and ridership has been growing steadily to the point where additional equipment may soon be needed.

Meanwhile, Mike Cassidy of Maritime Bus says the daily average of paid fares on their system continues to climb, from 266 in March, through 300 in April, to 349 for the first eight days of May. The fuel surcharge is set jointly by the regulators in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick based on a three-month weighted average, a process in which the company plays no part. It is currently 9.5%, but will increase for the next period based on the current price of diesel. Mr. Cassidy notes that base fares haven’t increased in ten years, because of the automatic adjustment for fuel costs. He says his corporate value philosophy is to keep fares affordable, and his biggest fear is overpricing the service.


VIA RAIL CEO RESIGNS ABRUPTLY

After just three years on the job, VIA Rail resigned – effective immediately – on May 20. PHOTO – theglobeandmail.com

Once again there has been a change in command at VIA Rail Canada. In a tersely-worded statement just before the May long weekend, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced the immediate departure of Cynthia Garneau, after just three years on the job and two years before her order-in-council appointment was due to end.

“I would like to thank Ms. Garneau for her service and her work over the past three years in contributing to the modernization of VIA Rail, and adapting VIA Rail operations during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while always ensuring the health and safety of employees and passengers,” the minister said, adding “I wish Ms. Garneau the best of luck in her future endeavours.”

No reason was given for the sudden resignation, with the former CEO saying only that her train had arrived at its destination, and she was leaving with a sense of accomplishment.

Ms. Garneau faced a difficult challenge from the day she arrived at VIA. She was new to the company and its culture, she had no railroad background, or any experience in an organization carrying passengers or with a need to appreciate customer relationships on a large but very personal scale. She’d been at VIA only ten months when COVID struck.

Her tenure will not likely be remembered as being positive for Atlantic Canada, or anywhere else outside the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec City corridor, where her focus had been clearly concentrated. Transport Action Atlantic was not able to obtain a meeting with her – not even a virtual one – during those three years, further reinforcing the perception that, in VIA’s view, Canada ends at Quebec City.

VIA board chair Françoise Bertrand announced that Martin Landry, who has served as the corporation’s chief commercial officer for the past eight years “will ensure business continuity”. Mr. Landry, who previously served in various senior roles at IBM, was recruited by former VIA CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano.

Martin R Landry, VIA Rail’s chief commercial officer for the past eight years, has been named interim CEO at the Crown corporation. SUBM ITTED PHOTO


VIA TRI-WEEKLY SERVICE RESUMING – BUT AMENITIES REMAIN UNCERTAIN

VIA’s Ocean consist for the peak travel season in 2022 is expected to resemble this view from last summer, with a mix of Renaissance and Budd stainless steel cars. However, there’s still no indication of anything to replace amenities no longer offered to sleeper class passengers with the loss of the Park-series observation dome cars. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

Restoration of pre-COVID service frequency by VIA Rail’s Ocean is just a few weeks away. The Crown corporation confirmed in a mid-April media release that the tri-weekly schedule would resume effective June 3, with departures from both Montreal and Halifax on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. However, it’s still unclear what the summer consists will look like. The online reservation system indicates that additional sleeping car capacity is on offer, using Chateau stainless steel cars, but there has been no word on what, if anything, will replace the Park-series observations cars which can no longer operate because the train cannot be turned in Halifax. Unless this issue is addressed, it will represent a significant downgrading of service quality for the higher-revenue sleeper-class passengers – one that will clearly make the product less attractive than it previously was.

Although dining car service is now available to sleeper passengers, other safety measures in response to COVID-19 remain in effect. Those include a continuous masking policy on trains (except in enclosed sleeper accommodation) and in stations, as well as mandatory vaccination as required by the federal government.

NS AIRPORTS GET GOVERNMENT CASH AS TRAFFIC REBOUNDS

Halifax Stanfield International is now a much busy place than it was just a few months ago. Overseas flights by both Air Canada and WestJet have resumed, and more transborder routes will reopen in June. PHOTO-Ted Bartlett

Activity at airports across Atlantic Canada is slowly rebounding, as people gradually regain their confidence about travelling. Although horror stories abound about excessive security and customs delays at some of Canada’s larger airports, this region appears to have been spared most of the grief, which has been generally attributed to staffing shortages. Schedules are slowly becoming more frequent, as both airliners and airport authorities look ahead to summer with cautious optimism.

Governments generally appear to be more focused on encouraging people to fly than on promoting greener forms of transportation. As a case in point, on May 6 the Nova Scotia government handed out nearly $20 million in funding to help airports in Sydney and Halifax recover from the pandemic and attract new airlines and flights. Of this $6.3 million goes to Sydney and $13 million to Halifax. In the latter case, the money will be spent on attracting U.S. and international flights, and also to re-establish domestic services that were cut during the pandemic. However, as reported last month in this space, both overseas and transborder operations at YHZ are already showing encouraging signs of recovery.

Meanwhile, at annual meetings held recently both the Moncton and Saint John airport authorities reported a much improved outlook for their respective bottom lines. Even the smaller airports are seeing increased numbers of arrivals and departures, with new flights being introduced at bargain prices by low-cost carriers.

LIVELY DISCUSSION EXPECTED AT TAA’S ANNUAL MEETING

Veteran NL politician Gerry Byrne believes the answer to the Marine Atlantic ferry rates paradigm may be “hiding in plain sight.” He’ll be discussing his theory as one of the confirmed speakers at TAA’s AGM on May 28.
PHOTO – NL House of Assembly

The agenda is almost finalized for Transport Action Atlantic’s annual general meeting, to be held virtually using the ZOOM platform on Saturday, May 28, beginning at 1400 ADT (1430 NDT). In addition to the required business, there’s extensive discussion planned on three major issues that TAA has been closely following over the past year – public transit, passenger rail, and Marine Atlantic ferry rates. Confirmed or tentative speakers and panellists include Newfoundland and Labrador cabinet minister Gerry Byrne, Maritime Bus founder Mike Cassidy, New Brunswick transit advocate Yves Bourgeois, long-time Trains magazine passenger rail columnist Bob Johnston, and Deatra Walsh, policy and advocacy director for the NL municipalities federation.

The business agenda includes annual reports and financial statements, appointment of an auditor, election of a board of directors, and any other organizational matters that may arise. This is expected to require about 45 minutes, after which the discussion portion of the meeting will begin.

As always, our AGM is open to the general public and the media. Non-members who’d like to attend should request credentials by e-mail to atlantic@transportaction.ca.