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 – February 2022

Welcome to the February 2022 installment of Atlantic Transport News!

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

VIA HOLDS “MARKET DAY” FOR LONG-HAUL EQUIPMENT SUPPLIERS

One of the first of VIA’s new Siemens Charger locomotives and its consist of Venture rolling stock undergoes real-world winter testing during a snowstorm on the Alexandria Sub near Ottawa in January. The long-haul version of this engine will no doubt be in contention to replace an aging fleet of GMD F40s, now in their fourth decade of active service. PHOTO – David McCormack

VIA Rail Canada has confirmed it is preparing a business case for the renewal of its aging long-haul locomotives and cars – some of which are more than 70 years old. The Crown corporation hosted a virtual “Market-Day” event with suppliers on January 20 to discuss the project and seek their input on various elements including schedule, budget, procurement and delivery timeline. Those discussions will inform the submission to the federal government, which will ultimately have to approve the necessary funding. The latest version of VIA’s 5-year Corporate Plan, which has just been released to the public, is rather pessimistic on how long the process will take, suggesting that delivery of new equipment may well be 10-15 years in the future.

VIA is being somewhat coy about which potential suppliers might be involved. The invitation posted in December on the MERX public tendering website was extended to “all tier 1 original equipment manufacturers of intercity and long-distance rail cars and locomotives”, adding that the day would be dedicated to both informing the market about the fleet renewal opportunity and addressing the context of the Government of Canada’s 2022-2023 Budget.

A spokesperson in the office of CEO Cynthia Garneau did say the participating suppliers at the market day came from “across the world”, but was not in a position to say how many there actually were. However, it’s a safe bet that Siemens Mobility will be among the contenders to at the very least build new locomotives. Siemens is already supplying 32 bi-directional trainsets to replace VIA’s entire corridor fleet by the end of 2024. The first of these is currently undergoing testing in real-life winter conditions on the Alexandria Sub between Ottawa and Coteau QC. The first revenue service is set to take place later this year. The testing is reportedly going well.

Each of the new VIA trains includes a Siemens Charger locomotive, the current state-of-the-art in low-emission diesel-electric traction. The company also builds a long-distance version of the Charger. As of February 8, Amtrak now has a total of 125 of the so-called ALC42 units on the way, having just exercised an option to add 50 more to its current production order.

The ALC42 boasts a 1000-kilowatt head-end power capability for car heating and hotel services, compared to 600 kilowatts on the ones in VIA’s current order, as well as 20% more fuel capacity for longer range. Amtrak has had the first two units for testing over the past six months, and they’ve just been placed in revenue service on the Chicago-Seattle Empire Builder.

Meanwhile, the union representing many of VIA’s employees wants Ottawa to pour “significant dollars” into the corporation’s long-haul fleet renewal, and it views the Halifax-Montreal Ocean as a priority.  Unifor spokesperson Scott Doherty told the Campbellton Tribune that upgrading passenger rail transportation is a key factor across the country. He said that the Trudeau Government needs to follow the lead of the Biden White House, which as just committed to the largest public investment in Amtrak’s entire history.

“It can’t just be fast rail service from Toronto to Ottawa or Montreal to Windsor,” he said. “That can’t be the only place where investments get made.” He added that rail travel is “a green, environmentally acknowledged form of transportation, and it’s got to be affordable.”

 -Ted Bartlett

HALIFAX AIRPORT TRAFFIC “STALLED” IN 2021

This view of the main departures concourse at Halifax Stanfield International Airport on a November afternoon in 2021 was all too typical of the feeling of emptiness that prevailed here and at other terminals throughout the region last year. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

2021 was another turbulent year for air traffic through Atlantic Canada’s busiest airport. For the second year in a row, passenger activity at Halifax Stanfield airport was down roughly 75 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels. 1.1 million passengers travelled through the airport in 2021, compared to 4.2 million passengers in 2019.  Domestic travel reached roughly a third of 2019 levels in 2021, but US and international travel was nearly non-existant due ongoing international travel restrictions, and limited direct international flights to and from Halifax. This has resulted in significant financial losses for the Halifax International Airport Authority (HIAA).

“The past two years have been the most challenging years in Halifax Stanfield’s history,” said Joyce Carter, President and CEO, HIAA, in a news release. “We anticipate that it will take several more years for the airport to fully recover from the effects of COVID-19, and the recovery path will have many ups and downs along the way.”

After a slow start to the year, travel began to pick up through the late summer, as travel restrictions eased, and increasing vaccination rates helped raise traveller confidence. The return of air service created a sense of optimism, and more passengers were served during the month of August than the months of January to July combined. However, much of this progress was blunted by the pre-Christmas spike in COVID-19 cases due to the Omicron variant and restored caution against non-essential travel.

The overall decrease in passenger traffic during the pandemic has had a significant financial impact on the HIAA, airlines, and other businesses connected to the airport, including food, beverage, and retail concessions. According to a news release from the HIAA, approximately 45 per cent of concessions in the air terminal building remain closed because of the low passenger volumes, while others have reopened on limited hours due to less frequent flight activity and ongoing labour shortages.

Other airports throughout the region reported similar news, while also looking ahead with some cautious optimism. St. John’s International, Atlantic Canada’s second largest in terms of passenger numbers, has yet to release statistics for 2021, but Greater Moncton’s Roméo LeBlanc Airport – number three in the region – confirmed that its passenger arrivals and departures showed only slight improvement from the previous year.

In a media release on February 7, the airport authority acknowledged the uncertainty hanging over YQM in 2021. Even though it was the only New Brunswick airport handling passengers during the first half of the year, the facility saw only 10% of normal activity during that period.

A stronger recovery over the summer months meant that YQM was able to close the year at 177,040 passengers – a slight improvement over the prior year’s total of 173,404. Still, this remains down 74% compared to pre-COVID 2019 activity levels of 674,406 passengers.

-Tim Hayman, with files from Ted Bartlett

ST. JOHN’S AIRPORT PARALYZED BY FIREFIGHTERS DISPUTE

Chris Bussey, regional vice-president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, said St. John’s Airport firefighters complained about harassment and bullying after bringing health and safety concerns to their employer. PHOTO – Jeremy Eaton/ CBC

It was neither a consequence of COVID nor winter weather, but for a four-day period in mid-January the region’s second busiest airport was brought to an effective standstill. The issue was a long-festering labour dispute with firefighters at St. John’s International Airport.

The first flight cancellations came on January 17, after two-thirds of fire hall staff went on leave due to concerns about what they claimed was a toxic workplace. Chris Bussey, the regional vice-president of the Union of Canadian Transportation Employees, told CBC News that firefighters were complaining about harassment and bullying after bringing health and safety concerns to their employer. Mr. Bussey said his members had reached a point where they had nowhere else to turn.

He said six out of nine firefighters asked their family doctors to take them out of the workplace to “protect their psychological health and safety”, leaving just three to respond to potential emergencies. He noted that airport firefighters require specialized training under international aviation regulations, which means staff can’t be supplemented by the St. John’s Regional Fire Department. At that point there was only one firefighter with one crash truck serving the airport – a service level sufficient for small planes, like a Dash 8, but not for larger aircraft.

A spokesperson for the St. John’s International Airport Authority confirmed operations had been affected by staffing levels, but declined to specifically address the issues with the media. By next day YYT was essentially at a complete standstill, except for medevac and cargo flights. For obvious geographic reasons, St. John’s is arguably more dependent on its airport than any other Canadian city of comparable size. Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan, who represents one of the city ridings, said he was working with Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to try to find a resolution.

It took several days of apparently-intense negotiation with the aid of senior federal mediator Barney Dobbin, during which time a limited number of flights were able to operate under an interim arrangement, while others were diverted to Gander. A cryptic media release from the airport authority late on the fourth day of the disruption announced that the matter had been resolved and normal operations could now be resumed. Without giving any details, the statement said only that the issues had been addressed, adding that “we are committed to work with the union to ensure that this does not reoccur.”

It was several days more before flight schedules had fully returned to their COVID-reduced normal levels.
-Ted Bartlett

CAT TO SET SAIL FROM YARMOUTH AGAIN IN 2022

After more than three years of inactivity, the CAT may be about to resume service from Yarmouth NS. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

After yet another year out of service due to ongoing pandemic related travel restrictions, Bay Ferries is finally anticipating a return to service for the much maligned CAT ferry between Yarmouth and its new terminus of Bar Harbor, Maine. The company has announced a service resumption date of May 19, beginning with four crossings a week – Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Monday. The service will expand to daily crossings from June 23 to September 11, dropping to six days a week until October 10, when sailings will end for the season.

The ferry will depart from Yarmouth at 9:30am, and depart for its return trip from Bar Harbor at 3:00pm. The shorter schedule facilitated by the new US terminus, at 3 ½ hours, makes this tighter turnaround possible, and facilitates better scheduled times in each direction. Tickets for the season can be booked via the Bay Ferries website. Adult fares are $115 one-way for walk-on passengers, or $210 for a round trip ticket, with discounted rates for seniors and youths; children under 6 years of age are free. Vehicle fares begin at $199 for a standard car, with increasing rates for larger vehicles and trailers, added to the initial passenger fare. Fares for smaller vehicles are lower, beginning at $20 for a bicycle. A special “Atlantic Adventure” package is also available, which offers discounted rates for walk-on round-trip travel where both crossings are completed within 72 hours. Canadian passengers may be disappointed to realize that all fares are presented in US funds, which means that the ferry pricing will be much steeper for Canadians depending on the exchange rates.

As with any travel in this time, scheduling and the actual return to service remain contingent on the public health situation, and any cross-border travel restrictions that may exist or evolve as the year unfolds. Full refunds are available on any trips cancelled at least 24 hours before departure.

FOOT-DRAGGING ON CAMPOBELLO FERRY ISSUE “OUTRAGEOUS”, SAYS NEW BRUNSWICK’S NEWEST SENATOR

Former Port Saint John CEO Jim Quinn is the newest member of the Senate from New Brunswick, and he intends to take an active role on transportation matters – including the Campobello ferry. SUBMITTED PHOTO

The normally-seasonal ferry serving Campobello Island has received yet another extension – this time until May. Scheduled to tie up for the season at the end of December, the tug-and-barge operation linking Campobello to the New Brunswick mainland via Deer Island is continuing to run four days a week, weather permitting and at the discretion of the operator. The Department of Transportation and Infrastructure foots the bill, which is about $60,000 a month.

Reaction among the island’s 800 permanent residents was generally positive, even though it’s widely recognized that the current ferry is poorly suited to the task at hand for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it was never designed for operation under winter conditions. Advocates are seeking a permanent, year-round solution with a more suitable vessel that ensures residents won’t have to travel through the US to access services in mainland New Brunswick. The Province has balked at the idea, maintaining that the island has a bridge to the state of Maine, and the federal government has so far refused to come to the table – even though an ACOA-funded study identified clear economic benefits from a year-round ferry, both to the island and the province as a whole.

It’s a situation that the province’s newest member of the Red Chamber in Ottawa finds “outrageous”. In a wide-ranging virtual discussion with a delegation from Transport Action Atlantic, Senator Jim Quinn said it’s a matter he’s prepared to pursue, and that a situation like this just wouldn’t happen in a part of Canada considered more politically important. He’s in a good position to know, having served many years as a senior federal public servant before becoming CEO of Port Saint John.

Senator Quinn is a member of the non-partisan Canadian Senators Group. He’s supportive of many of the issues on TAA’s sustainable transportation agenda.
-Ted Bartlett


REMEMBERING TWO ATLANTIC TRANSPORTATION LEADERS

Two prominent industry personalities from the late 20th Century, have passed away in recent weeks. Harry Steele and Rupert Tingley were both in their 90s. Mr. Steele, who died in St. John’s on January 28, has been widely described as a business titan. He achieved initial fame at Eastern Provincial Airways –“the little airline that could” – and served as chairman of Canadian Airlines International for over a decade. Mr. Tingley passed away in Moncton on February 2. He was a railroader whose career track led him down to the sea, whose name was synonymous with ferry service in Atlantic Canada for 15 years.

Lieutenant Commander Harold R. Steele was a career navy man, whose final military posting placed him in command of CFS Gander, not far from his birthplace in the remote Newfoundland outport of Musgrave Harbour. While there, he and his business-savvy wife Catherine acquired a bankrupt hotel named, perhaps somewhat inappropriately, the Albatross. By the time he left the forces in 1974 the hotel was doing well, and he accepted an offer as a vice-president with Eastern Provincial Airways, then part of the Crosbie group of companies. He lasted less than a year in that job – but long enough to recognize the struggling airline as an opportunity.

Harry Steele acquired control of struggling Eastern Provincial Airways in 1978, turned it around in just four years, and sold it to Canadian Pacific at a handsome profit. Before exiting the transportation business completely in the late 1990s, his interests also included stakes in Halterm, Oceanex, and Clarke Transport. PHOTO – Langan Business Report

The Steeles mortgaged their home and the hotel to augment the money they’d earned in some astute stock market trades, and by 1978 had acquired control of EPA. He turned it into a money maker, built a reputation for customer service and satisfaction, played politics and overcame the Transport Canada bureaucracy to defeat the much-larger CP Air in a struggle to win the lucrative Halifax-Toronto route, and took on striking pilots in a bitter and very public dispute. (During the labour troubles, Harry Steele was widely quoted as referring to the strikers as “overdressed, overpaid, oversexed bus drivers” – something he always maintained he never said – but the legend persists to this day.)

He also lost some friends in Newfoundland, and Gander in particular, by moving the airline’s operational hub to Halifax. It was a sound economic decision in light of the new Toronto routes, and no doubt facilitated the sale of EPA to CP Air at a substantial profit in 1984.

Mr. Steele was soon named to the board of CP Air, and eventually became non-executive chairman of Canadian Airlines International. But his aspirations to lead the new carrier into an enduring national and world-wide presence came to naught. Battered by the turbulent skies of the 1990s, Canadian ceased to exist with the arrival of the new millennium, and was acquired and merged into Air Canada. In later years, Harry Steele’s business focus was in broadcasting, but it was said he always refused on principle to fly Air Canada. At the time of his death, the Albatross Hotel was still in the family.

Rupert J. Tingley, shown here front and centre with his senior management group, was named Marine Atlantic’s first president and CEO when it became an independent Crown corporation in 1986. He was previously V-P and general manager of East Coast Marine and Ferry Service and CN Marine from 1973. PHOTO – Marine Atlantic Archives

Rupert J. Tingley, a native of Petitcodiac NB, also served in Canada’s military as a member of the RCAF. On release from the service he attended the University of New Brunswick, earned his engineering degree, and like many young New Brunswickers of the postwar era found employment with Canadian National Railways in 1952. His assignments around Atlantic Canada involved him in a number of marine-related projects, including building a dock for the new Newfoundland ferry William Carson at North Sydney.

Returning to the region after postings in Montreal and London Ontario, he became interested in a new and emerging technology – containerization. It was still early days, but he became an avid student, as was soon assigned to establish the railway’s container development branch. This led to a promotion as regional marketing manager, and then came a move that plunged him head-long into the ferry business as area manager for Newfoundland. To his everlasting embarrassment, he became deathly seasick on his first voyage from Argentia to North Sydney.

A few years later CN management and Transport Canada agreed to consolidate the various railway-run marine services into a single operating entity. The unwieldy-named East Coast Marine and Ferry Service was launched in 1973, with headquarters in Moncton just down the street from CN’s regional HQ building. Rupert Tingley was appointed general manager of the division, which was renamed CN Marine and given the now-familiar “wavy-navy” logo in 1976.

He oversaw the development of the region’s first custom superferry design that resulted in the 1980s construction of MV Caribou and MV Smallwood, and on creation of a separate Crown corporation to manage federally-supported ferry services in the region, he was logical choice to lead it. Following passage of enabling legislation in Parliament, Marine Atlantic was officially inaugurated on September 3, 1986, with Rupert Tingley as its first president and CEO.

Soon after his 1988 retirement, maybe remembering the long-ago encounter with mal de mer, or perhaps correctly anticipating that the immense concrete Confederation Bridge would replace the PEI ferries within a decade, he purchased controlling interest in two companies specializing in the trucking of cement.

-Ted Bartlett

Atlantic Transport News – December 2021

Welcome to the December edition of Atlantic Transport News!

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

ATMOSPHERIC RIVER SEVERS TCH IN WESTERN NEWFOUNDLAND

Washouts from two days of torrential rain that started on November 23 severed the Trans-Canada Highway between Port aux Basques and Corner Brook at four separate locations. The vital transportation artery was closed to traffic for more than a week. PHOTO – Troy Turner CBC

A record-breaking downpour that struck Cape Breton Island and southwestern Newfoundland in late November caused a major supply chain disruption, with multiple washouts completely closing the main highway north of the ferry terminal town of Port aux Basques. The province’s principal entry point for commercial traffic was totally isolated for over a week. While provincial highway crews scrambled to make emergency repairs to the Trans-Canada Highway, Marine Atlantic reactivated its closed-down seasonal Argentia terminal on short notice to accommodate high priority traffic.

Port aux Basques received a typical month’s worth of rain – about 165 millimetres – in just two days, according to Environment Canada. Then another 50 mm fell on the area less than a week later, prompting Mayor Brian Button to call for serious conversations on the impact of climate change on his town and others. The meteorological term “atmospheric river” is one we’ve not heard very often in the past – but it’s one that we’re likely to hear much more often in years to come. It refers to a narrow corridor of concentrated moisture, of the kind that impacted both of Canada’s coasts last month. While the devastation in the Atlantic provinces wasn’t nearly as spectacular as that in British Columbia, it still created widespread concern and disruption. There were no fatalities, but motorists in both Cape Breton and Newfoundland had some very scary experiences. One Parks Canada employee in Cape Breton Highlands had an exceptionally narrow escape when his truck plunged into a washed-out chasm.

Marine Atlantic’s MV Blue Puttees docked for the first time ever at the quickly reactivated seasonal Argentia terminal on the morning of November 26. The load included 56 commercial vehicles carrying essential food and produce, mail and other items to keep the supply chain open, as well as motorists who’d been stranded in North Sydney. PHOTO – Marine Atlantic

On request from the provincial government, Marine Atlantic acted quickly to deliver a temporary partial solution to the island’s critical supply situation. There was no point in transporting the hundreds of backlogged commercial vehicles from North Sydney to Port aux Basques – there was nowhere for them to go – so the shuttered seasonal terminal at Argentia was hastily reactivated. The two year-round workhorses, MV Blue Puttees and MV Highlanders aren’t well-suited to the alternate route, because there’s no access to their upper deck at the seasonal terminal and these two ships don’t have internal ramp or elevator capability as their normal mode is bi-level loading.

But despite the capacity limitations and the longer crossing time, the strategy worked. Supplemented by MV Leif Ericson, a combined total of five round trips were made over a six-day period. The three ships transported a total of 606 commercial units and 1120 passengers with their vehicles to and from Argentia, according to spokesperson Darrell Mercer.

During the emergency, passengers and vehicles going to and from Argentia were charged the lower Port aux Basques fare – no doubt a welcome surprise to many. There were no food services available in the area of the Argentia terminal for the diverted truckers, but they were pleasantly surprised when the local population, some businesses, and service organizations came to the rescue. In a scenario reminiscent of the famous Come from Away story, they delivered meals or food packages to the drivers waiting in line.

By December 2 the TCH was once again passable, and the Argentia diversion came to an end. But the success of the operation prompted Placentia Mayor Keith Pearson to suggest in a CBC interview that the longer ferry route directly to the province’s largest concentration of population could play a larger role on more than just on a seasonal basis. An online petition calling for a year-round Argentia run had gathered over 2600 signatures by December 10.

-Ted Bartlett

“WHERE YOU LIVE DOESN’T SET LIMITATIONS ANYMORE” – A MOTHER’S TESTIMONIAL FOR PEI’S TOONIE TRANSIT

In the early morning darkness of October 12, Brady Chaisson boards the first “toonie transit” bus at the neighbourhood convenience store in Souris, PEI. He’s ridden to and from school in Charlottetown every day since. For the promising young hockey player, convenient and affordable rural transit is a game changer. PHOTO – submitted by Julie Chaisson

Thirteen year old Brady Chaisson is an aspiring young hockey player who lives in Souris, PEI. Some 80 kilometres away on the outskirts of Charlottetown there’s a recognized Hockey Canada school, the Mount Academy. It represented a golden opportunity for both his academic and sporting future, and his parents were giving serious consideration to enrolling him there. But there was one big catch: more than four hours on the road each day to drive him to and from – a daunting obstacle.

Then in early October came the game changer for Brady and his family. The provincial government announced a new transit program that would level the playing field – or rather the ice rink – for rural Islanders. Dubbed “Toonie Transit” because of the $2 one-way fare, regardless of distance, the publicly-funded initiative made the decision easy. It costs $20 a week for him to get to the Charlottetown campus – and he’s home every evening in time for supper.

“I was in shock; I couldn’t believe this was happening,” recalls Brady’s mom, Julie. Toonie transit was set to start on what would be his first day at the new school, and the schedule was a perfect match for school hours. Furthermore, the bus is flexible enough to make an extra stop to drop him off and pick him up right at the school to avoid any need to transfer to city transit, and of course the bus drivers know him by name.

Understandably, Julie is a cheerleader for rural transit, and is effusive in her praise for Premier Dennis King and service operator Mike Cassidy. “This is fantastic for PEI,” she says. “Where you live doesn’t set limitations anymore.”

Toonie transit now extends from Souris and Georgetown in the eastern part of the province all the way to Summerside. The previously-existing service between Charlottetown and Summerside via Kensington and Hunter River has come under the new umbrella, with fares being reduced to but a fraction of their former levels. The next step is to extend the service west to Alberton and Tignish in early 2022.

-Ted Bartlett

SECOND OCEAN FREQUENCY STARTS IN TIME FOR HOLIDAY SEASON TRAVEL

For the first time in more than 20 months, a second weekly VIA “Ocean” arrives in Halifax on the evening of December 9, 2021. Heavy snowfall the night before made for a very festive scene, and offered another reminder of why the train is a much needed travel option at this time of year. PHOTO – Tim Hayman

Though it’s still a long way from what we’d like to see, train travel in the Maritimes has become just a little bit easier in time for the Christmas holidays. On December 8, 2021, a second Ocean train set departed Montreal for the first time since March of 2020, meaning there was both a westbound train and an eastbound train on the road at the same time, meeting in the wee hours of the morning as they continued on to their respective destinations. The Ocean is now up to twice a week service, a full doubling of the meager once a week frequency that the train returned with after its lengthy pandemic shutdown, with trains departing from both Halifax and Montreal on Sundays and Wednesdays. When the service expansion was announced, VIA was clear that the timing was meant to coincide with the busier holiday season, and allow VIA to capture more ridership during this time period. President and CEO Cynthia Garneau was quoted in the press release as saying that “The return of this second frequency of the Ocean is good news for our passengers who now have more travel options in time for the holiday season”. As welcome as it is, it’s still only a shadow of VIA’s offering just a few years ago, when the tri-weekly service was further augmented with extra trains over the holidays.

The Sunday/Wednesday days of operation do work well around both Christmas and New Years, which fall on Saturdays this year, and the trains are selling well. Trains in both directions on Dec. 19 and 22, the two departures immediately before Christmas, have been sold out in most or all sleeper accommodations for some time. Other trains through that period also have limited availability. VIA’s reservations system appears to have shown additional sleeper inventory added more than once, which has disappeared quickly each time. We won’t be able to get a full sense of the total ridership until we see how much the train consists expand through this period, but it is already clear that there is still demand for this train, even after its lengthy absence.

Notably, the expansion to twice a week service now requires the use of two trainsets, which will be all that is required for the tri-weekly service return (and could even, in theory, support 4 trains a week). There have been concerns about VIA’s equipment availability to equip the Ocean, and while the longer term prospect is still concerning, it is positive to see enough equipment on hand to equip two trains with matching consists, and hopefully to expand suitably through the busier season.

In a boost to riders in the Gaspé, still waiting on an eventual return of their own train service, La Régie intermunicipale de transport de la Gaspésie – Îles-de-la-Madeleine (RÉGÎM) is once again bringing back its bus shuttle service to connect to and from the Ocean at Campbellton, allowing passengers to connect from stations along the former Chaleur route. This shuttle service has featured during past summer and holiday periods, and has continued to keep some connection to the Gaspé alive – no doubt a useful plan to keep enthusiasm for an eventual return of VIA to the region. The shuttle will connect with trains from Dec. 16 to Jan. 5.

A return to tri-weekly Ocean service is still planned for June 2022, at roughly the same time as the remainder of VIA’s network will finally see a return to normalcy, though the exact date is unlikely to be confirmed until much closer to that time.

-Tim Hayman

MOVING FORWARD TOGETHER:  HALIFAX IMPLEMENTS LARGEST NUMBER OF ROUTE CHANGES YET

Recent widespread changes to the Halifax Transit network show how services are evolving to reflect the changing needs of a changing region.
SUBMITTED PHOTO

On November 22, 2021, Halifax Transit introduced large-scale service changes primarily affecting communities on the Dartmouth side, but also reaching to Halifax, Spryfield and Porters Lake/Seaforth.  A new West Bedford Park & Ride has also opened, which has required minor modifications to four routes.

These changes are not part of the longer-term BRT and fast-ferry Rapid Transit plan.  Most are part of a rolling program stemming from 2016 when Halifax Regional Council approved the Moving Forward Together Plan (MFTP) – Halifax Transit’s strategic route network redesign. The recent changes are outlined in the Annual Service Plan, approved by Regional Council in May 2021.

Based on the MFTP, the network consists of eight service types. To help people easily identify each route’s service type, every type is being assigned its own range of route numbers, from which the service day and minimum frequencies can be inferred for any route:

• Corridor Routes (Routes 1 – 9) 

• Local Routes (Routes 20 – 99)

• Express Routes (Routes 100 through 199)

• Regional Express Routes (Route 300 – 399)

• Rural Routes (Routes 400 – 499)

• Ferry Routes (Routes 500- 599)

• School Routes (Routes 700-799)

• Access-A-Bus

Some routes have a letter attached, to indicate branched or directional routing differences. Branched routes operate along a main “trunk” providing high frequency service, and then splitting into “branches” to service different local areas at a lower frequency of service.  Directional routes provide service in a particular direction of travel, indicated by the letter.

Of the various service types, the Corridor Routes, Express Routes, and Regional Express Routes are of particular interest to readers of Transport Action Atlantic’s Bulletin.

Corridor Routes aim to provide consistent, frequent, service on high demand corridors, connecting residential areas or retail districts with regional destinations like shopping, employment, schools, and services.  These routes have sustained demand for transit over the course of the day, late into the evenings, and on weekends. They are well positioned to support increased residential density along the corridors which will, in turn, support increases in potential ridership generated by adjacent land uses.

Express Routes are a hybrid of the former successful MetroLink and Urban Express services. They are designed to provide commuters with a high quality, limited stop, weekday service during peak periods, making transit more attractive to individuals commuting for work and education. The intent is to attract peak period commuters to transit and reduce dependence on costly Park & Ride facilities. Express service picks up more passengers near their homes so they no longer need cars to access transit. It also retains a high level of service at terminals, allowing commuters who continue to use Park & Ride to retain a similar, if not better, level of service. Like the former Urban Express Routes, the new Express Routes provide local service in residential areas (regular local stops for pickups and drop offs). In some cases Express Routes replicate and replace Local Routes during peak times. Once an Express Route departs the local area, similar to MetroLink service but with no fare supplement, it provides limited stop service into downtown. Express Routes may also serve one or two major destinations on the way. Upon arrival in Downtown Halifax more frequent stops resume, allowing users to access their destinations quickly and easily.

Regional Express Routes connect rural, outlying communities to the urban core and other transit services. The intent is to allow residents of outlying communities the option of using transit for regular commuting. Regional Express Routes are subject to a premium fare. The Regional Express service model is very similar to the MetroX service which it supersedes; however, the new format will potentially allow one to three additional stops within the Urban Transit Service Boundary.

Compiled and adapted from Halifax Transit website content.  Further details are available at https://www.halifax.ca/transportation/halifax-transit/service-adjustments

METROBUS TO LAUNCH “ZIP NETWORK” IN JANUARY

Significant improvements to public transit in St. John’s are coming early in the new year. City Hall announced on December 7 that funding has been allocated for the launch of “Zip Network”, which will increase frequency on multiple Metrobus routes starting on January 3.

The service upgrades are part of a commitment by City Council to implement more frequent bus service. The budget for this improvement was originally approved in 2019, but implementation was put on hold due to pandemic restrictions.

“We are pleased to offer this improved service to Metrobus riders,” said Councillor Ian Froude, member of the St. John’s Transportation Commission. “Council is committed to public transportation, and more frequent bus service on the core routes is something we know users are anxious to see implemented.”

TheZip Network will offer increased and consistent frequency throughout the day on routes 1, 2, 3 and 10, offering service earlier in the morning and extending later in the day. The Zip routes will offer:

  • 15-minute frequency weekdays, from 7:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
  • 30-minute frequency weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and from 5:30 to 8 p.m.
  • 30-minute frequency on Saturdays, all day until 6 p.m. 

Funding of approximately $500,000 for 2022 is slated to be approved as part of the upcoming budget, to be presented to City Council later this month.

“As we prepared for the upcoming budget, we heard through our public engagement processes the importance of public transit,” explained Councillor Ron Ellsworth, council lead on Finance. “We believe this is a sound investment that demonstrates the City’s strategic commitment to being a city that moves.”

Adapted from a City of St. John’s media release. 

http://www.stjohns.ca/media-release/metrobus-zip-network-begins-new-year

CAMPOBELLO FERRY SLATED TO LOSE FUNDING AT YEAR-END (UPDATED)

The Campobello ferry situation isn’t getting any better, with scheduled crossings for the Christmas holidays making family visits without going through the US a virtual impossibility. PHOTO – Justin Tinker

As the holiday season approaches, the news isn’t getting any better for residents of Campobello Island. New Brunswick Transportation Minister Jill Green announced on November 26 that the provincial subsidy to East Coast Ferries Ltd. would come to an end on December 31. Since the arrival of COVID-19 a total of $575,000 has been paid to the private company to fund the extension of its normally seasonal service linking Campobello with Deer Island and the rest of the province. This enabled islanders to access the rest of Canada without travelling through the US via the international bridge to Lubec, Maine.

The ferry currently is scheduled for four days per week, with 1-2 of those days typically being lost to poor weather conditions. The vessel isn’t well suited to winter operation, and no other ferry in the area loses this number of days.

Moreover, crossings to Campobello end at 4:30 pm, limiting the timeframe for technicians or trades to service the island. And, after 4:30 on December 23rd, no crossings are scheduled until December 28th, making holiday travel to Campobello nearly impossible for most people.

Mainland families with children not yet fully vaccinated cannot travel through the Canada-US border without having their children excluded from school, daycare and community settings, forcing mainland families into an impossible situation of spending a second COVID Christmas separated from family on the island.

Meanwhile, the Human Development Council reports that childhood poverty on Campobello in 2021 has risen 9% to nearly 43%, giving the island the dubious distinction of having the highest level of childhood poverty outside of First Nations communities.

In an interview with Brunswick News, Minister Green appeared to soften her opposition to the ferry ever so slightly. “We’re not considering it at the moment,” she said, but I’m open to listen.” She acknowledged that there had been discussions with colleagues in the federal government on the issue.

An ACOA-sponsored 2019 feasibility study estimated it would cost government(s) nearly $2 million a year to fund a year-round ferry. However, the consultant also estimated the annual spinoff benefit to the New Brunswick business community at over $3 million – revenue that is currently going to the US.

UPDATE: On Dec. 16, news broke that the ferry service will be extended until May 31, 2022, in light of increasing COVID case counts, especially in Maine. For more details: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/campobello-island-ferry-extension-1.6288344

-with files from Justin Tinker

MARITIME BUS ENTERS YEAR 10, SETTING A NEW RECORD FOR PUBLIC TRANSIT ON PROVINCIAL HIGHWAYS

No operator in the motorcoach industry has ever continuously maintained more than nine years of serving all three Maritime provinces – until now. Maritime Bus entered its tenth year on December 1, and its founder says there’s no looking back. PHOTO – Maritime Bus/Coach Atlantic

On December 1, 2012, Maritime Bus picked up the pieces left behind by the multi-national owner of Acadian Lines, launching uninterrupted service extending from Sydney NS to Rivière-du-Loup QC.  Since then the locally-owned Charlottetown-based company has served all three Maritime provinces – operating daily schedules until the hammer-blow of COVID-19 struck. Through the worst of the pandemic, the company continued to run its buses, albeit on a reduced four-days-per-week basis. Now they’ve been back to daily except Saturday for nearly six months, with extra runs on Fridays and Sundays to accommodate weekend travel.

As the company enters its tenth year in business, it is passing a significant milestone. No other motorcoach operator has provided continuous service in all three provinces for longer than nine years. And, despite losing millions of dollars in gross revenue because of the pandemic, the founder says Maritime Bus is here to stay. Mike Cassidy told Brunswick News that the number of employees is down to 175 from the pre-pandemic peak of 515, directly attributable to the loss of charter, tour and cruise ship business. But he’s confident his business will bounce back once the travel industry recovers from the crisis.

“We’ve come too far; there is no giving up,” he told Daily Gleaner reporter Michael Staples. “I don’t have a give-me-up bone in my body.”

Despite some financial assistance from the three provincial governments, supported in part by Ottawa’s “Safe Restart” program, Maritime Bus still had to borrow $6 million to cover the financial impact of COVID-19.

For the time being, there are no plans to resume Saturday operation, but Mr. Cassidy says he’s sent a clear message to governments and politicians that the company is here to stay. He’s still actively advocating for a regional transportation plan – one that would connect communities without air or rail options – and he continues to urge the Government of Canada to assume a leadership role that would ensure coast-to-coast motorcoach service for people and packages.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS! YEAR END DONATION REMINDER

As we approach the holidays and the end of 2021, all of us at TAA would like to wish our readers and supporters a safe and happy holiday season, and a wonderful start to the new year ahead!

Our advocacy is supported entirely by the generous support of our members and donors, and we’d like to take this time to thank you all once again. If you aren’t yet a member, it’s always a good time to consider joining! https://transportactionatlantic.ca/membership/

In addition to membership, tax-deductible donations in support of our advocacy efforts are gratefully received online through Canada Helps. Don’t forget, December 31 is the deadline to receive a 2021 tax credit for your donation.