Atlantic Transport News – April 2022

Welcome to the April 2022 installment of Atlantic Transport News!

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

FEDERAL BUDGET COMES UP EMPTY FOR VIA’S OCEAN – BUT TRI-WEEKLY SERVICE TO RESUME IN JUNE

Don’t expect to see long-haul passenger motive power like this in Canada anytime soon. Amtrak has ordered 125 of these low-emission Siemens Charger ALC42 diesels, shown here on the point of the Empire Builder. The 2022-23 federal budget contained nothing for VIA service outside the Toronto-Quebec City corridor.
PHOTO – Justin Franz/Twitter

Atlantic Canadians are still no closer to seeing a modernized rail passenger service after the 2022-23 federal budget was unveiled on April 7. The Trudeau Government’s fiscal plan made no mention of any investment outside the Toronto-Quebec City corridor, despite the first tentative steps taken by VIA Rail in January towards a long-overdue equipment replacement program. VIA is revealing little about the initiative, but the Crown corporation does acknowledge that there is no funding for it at this time. Evidently they are testing the waters to learn what options might be available, but are not prepared to say even how many participants were involved at their virtual “market day” – much less identify any of them. Neither will they disclose what type of equipment they might be looking at.

Meanwhile, VIA has just confirmed that the third frequency of the Ocean will resume in the first week of June. Online bookings had been available for Friday departures from Montreal and Halifax effective June 3 for several months, but the company hadn’t been able to confirm that these would actually take place, citing COVID-19 uncertainty. But the April 14th media release means that the full tri-weekly pre-pandemic schedule will be restored for the summer, albeit missing some of the amenities previously offered to sleeper-class passengers.

VIA CEO Cynthia Garneau termed it “a celebratory and crucial milestone in our service resumption plan after an incredibly challenging two years. We look forward to welcoming more of our customers back on board our trains and doing our part to encourage Canadians and tourists to get out and explore this beautiful country for the summer travel season.”

The release said VIA’s objective has always been the safe resumption of services when conditions allowed it, adding that the decision to add frequencies during the pandemic has been based on various factors, including demand, employing a balanced approach in order to fulfill VIA Rail’s public service mandate and manage financial impacts. The company will revise its service offering in line with the latest developments if necessary, and existing safety measures in response to COVID-19 remain in effect. Those include a masking policy on trains and in stations, as well as mandatory vaccination as required by the federal government.

“The train remains one of the safest ways to travel this summer and we are pleased to be offering our passengers more frequencies and more flexibility,” the announcement concluded. No details are yet available on whether additional sleeping car capacity will be available. The Ocean has been operating with just four Renaissance sleepers for the past several months, and for a number of upcoming departures the reservation system is showing all space as sold out.

LITTLE JOY FOR TRANSIT IN THREE PROVINCIAL BUDGETS

St. John’s City Councillor Maggie Burton: “There can be no meaningful action on poverty and climate without investment in public transportation.”
(Image from Facebook)

Sustainable transportation is clearly not a priority for the provincial governments of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador. All three tabled their 2022 budgets in recent weeks – and all three gave public transit short shrift. Where it did get a mention, only lip service was paid.

In St. John’s there’s a bit of a tempest brewing because the Furey Liberals tried to claim political points for the underfunded Metrobus pass aimed at low-income residents. The City is being expected to provide the free transportation to more people, but with a lower level of provincial funding than previously – despite much higher fuel costs. At the same time, the Province is refusing to give Metrobus a break on its taxes or the registration fees for its vehicles. City Councillor Maggie Burton perhaps said it best when she tweeted “there can be no meaningful action on poverty and climate without investment in public transportation.”

New Brunswick is apparently still adamant that it will not commit matching provincial funding in order to avail of available federal money for public transit, despite requests to reconsider from at least two city councils. Quoting Ottawa sources, Brunswick News reported that there is $112 million left on the table for transit investments in NB if the Province is prepared to come up with its share, but Premier Higgs continues to argue that the program isn’t flexible enough.

Instead, the Province unveiled a three-year $1.1-billion plan for improving and extending the life of existing roads and bridges – some of which admittedly are in dire need of attention. But this, of course, does nothing to reduce automobile dependency or promote sustainable transportation. Moncton economist David Campbell recently posted a graph indicating that New Brunswickers spend a higher proportion of their household income on motor fuel than any other Canadians.

In late breaking news from Ottawa, there has apparently been some sort of compromise hammered out that would allow New Brunswick greater flexibility in accessing the federal funds, which are scheduled to disappear if not used by the end of the new fiscal year. Brunswick News says influential federal minister Dominic LeBlanc brokered the arrangement, and Premier Higgs was quoted as being pleased with the outcome. Although details aren’t yet available it appears most of the money earmarked for transit may be diverted to projects preferred by the province.

Meanwhile, Nova Scotia’s capital plan for 2022-23 includes $507.8 million for roads, highways and bridges. The only discernable nod to green transportation in the budget is a $2-million allocation for electric vehicle charging stations across the province. It isn’t clear if NS is prepared to match Ottawa’s offer for transit funding.

Prince Edward Island remains the front-runner in sustainable public transportation policies. It’s now been confirmed that the Island Transit network will be extended to the western end of the province effective Tuesday, April 19, which means residents will be able to effectively travel from one end of the province to the other for just a $2 fare, which includes a transfer to the T3 Transit service in Charlottetown. The recent budget also provided for free transit for all Islanders under 18, as well as $100 point-of-sale rebates on bicycle purchases and $500 for e-bikes. To allay concerns about supply chain issues, the government has announced that the cycle rebate will be extended indefinitely.

MARITIME BUS GETS CASH INFUSION FROM PROVINCES – BUT NOTHING YET FOR DRL

Intercity busing in the Maritimes has just received another helping hand from the three provincial governments to help keep services operational in the face of massive losses during the pandemic. In Newfoundland, DRL Coachlines remains empty-handed. PHOTO – Maritime Bus

Struggling motorcoach carrier Maritime Bus got some good news from three provincial governments on April 12. In a joint news release, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island announced a combined contribution of just under $900,000 to help the company defray some of the multi-million-dollar losses it has sustained during the pandemic. In addition to drastically reduced farebox revenue on its intercity and rural routes, the coach tour and cruise ship business disappeared, eliminating many of the economies of scale that kept the family-owned enterprise viable.

“It’s nice to feel needed and it’s nice to feel wanted,” said Maritime Bus founder Mike Cassidy in an interview with CBC News. It’s the second infusion of funds Mr. Cassidy’s company has received from the provinces, and is particularly important in enabling service to continue in rural areas like northern New Brunswick. He’s looking forward to the return of cruise ships, and hopeful that revenues during the upcoming tourist season will reach 90% of 2019 levels.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick will each contribute $400,000 to the company, while Prince Edward Island is providing $90,000. The media release from Nova Scotia said the contributions are proportional to the ratio of kilometres driven by the service in each province.

DRL Coachlines, also a privately-owned carrier that provides daily service across 900 kilometres of the Trans Canada Highway in Newfoundland, has also been trying to get some financial support from government to help offset its pandemic losses. Owner Jason Roberts says nothing has been forthcoming to date, despite assurances last fall that help was on the way. The province has cut registration fees in half for 2022 to help compensate car owners for higher fuel prices, but hasn’t offered anything to public transportation operators.

Meanwhile, there’s been no word from Ottawa about any change in federal policy regarding the
Rural Transit Solutions Fund. The $250-million program was unveiled last year, but the federal government has been adamant that only not-for-profit agencies qualify for the capital assistance it offers. That specifically excludes companies like Maritime Bus and DRL – despite the fact that both have been losing massive sums of money over the past two years.

Mike Cassidy had the opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with federal Transport Minister Omar Alghabra in early March, and expressed hope afterwards that the political will for change was beginning to come round. But he’s still waiting for talk to turn to positive action.

URBAN TRANSIT: “CLAWING ITS WAY BACK TO NORMAL”

With another difficult winter behind them, urban transit systems are tweaking schedules in an effort to win back riders. New initiatives at Halifax Transit include a dedicated transitway on Spring Garden Road, a program to make using transit easier for people with special mobility needs, and additional help for newcomers in learning how to navigate the system. SUBMITTED PHOTO

As more and more people transition towards a new normal after nearly two years of working from home, and the masking guidelines on public transit switch from “mandatory” to “recommended”, the bus systems in the region’s major urban centres are adjusting routes and schedules as they ride the challenging road to recovery.

Halifax Transit introduced some large-scale service changes back in November, primarily affecting communities on the Dartmouth side, but also reaching to Halifax, Spryfield and Porters Lake/Seaforth. Most of these changes had been in the works long before the pandemic hit, and were included in plans approved by the Regional Municipal Council last spring. They are not part of the longer-term rapid transit plan unveiled in 2021, but they have the same objective – to make it easier for Haligonians to get to their destinations more quickly and conveniently, and without resorting to cars. Although the agency announced a return to its full pandemic schedule several months ago, staffing issues have forced periodic cancellation of both bus runs and ferry crossings.

Meanwhile, significant improvements to public transit in St. John’s were launched in January, after City Council allocated funding for the so-called “Zip Network”, aimed at increased frequency on multiple Metrobus routes. The upgrades are part of a commitment originally approved in 2019, but implementation was put on hold due to pandemic restrictions.

The Zip Network offers increased and consistent frequency throughout the day on routes 1, 2, 3 and 10, beginning earlier in the morning and extending later in the day, with 15-minute frequency at peak hours on weekdays and 30 minutes for most other times. Metrobus general manager Judy Powell says user feedback from the changes has been positive, but the COVID factor makes the total impact difficult to measure. For example, Zip was introduced at the same time that most university students returned to campus. She added that ridership continues to gradually improve, and by March had reached 88% of pre-pandemic levels.

Greater Moncton’s Codiac Transpo is also tweaking its routes and schedules as it “claws its way back to normal”, says operations manager Alex Grncarovski. The system is now at 90% of pre-pandemic service hours, and is showing a steady ridership increase. With a new automated fare collection system now fully implemented, there’s a wealth of new data available for planning purposes that simply wasn’t there before. And, they’re hearing a lot from employers who are recognizing how important availability of transit is in recruitment. All this means more “thinking outside the box” to get the best bang for the buck as routing and expansion changes are contemplated.

Codiac Transpo is especially pleased that the Town of Riverview is showing a stronger commitment to public transit. Council has maintained funding for expanded service that was first introduced last year to help residents cope with the extended closure of one of the Petitcodiac River crossings. Riverview has a history of being very car-centric, and presents a special challenge, Mr. Grncarovski says, because it is very spread out and much more difficult to adequately serve than Moncton and Dieppe. But the coverage area has recently been extended, and residents appear to be reacting positively to more reliable and quicker service.

RATES UNCHANGED THIS SUMMER ON MARINE ATLANTIC FERRIES

Sailing to and from Newfoundland by Marine Atlantic this summer won’t cost any more than it did in 2020. The Crown corporation has apparently been granted an exemption from the 65% cost recovery requirement again this year, and it’s hoping to return to the full range of onboard amenities. PHOTO – Marine Atlantic

Marine Atlantic has confirmed that there will be no rate increase on its ferries to Newfoundland this summer. Evidently the federal government did not want to either rain on the province’s Come Home 2022 parade or exacerbate the rising cost of living by increasing the charges for trucking goods to the island. In effect, this means that fares will remain at the same level as in 2020, with the 65% cost recovery requirement evidently held in abeyance for another year. And, because the Crown corporation has a fuel hedging program with their own tank farm, there’s unlikely to be any immediate impact on the fuel surcharge as a result of world events. Ferry bookings for the summer are running well ahead of pre-pandemic norms for this time of year – no doubt a consequence of pent-up demand among ex-pat Newfoundlanders.

Meanwhile, there’s optimism that onboard amenities will return to near-normal this summer, after two seasons of very limited food and beverage offerings. Colin Tibbo, the executive in charge of customer experience, says public health considerations may dictate some adjustments in how the food actually gets to the plate, but he’s looking forward to offering the same standard of service that received high satisfaction levels from passengers pre-pandemic.

OVERSEAS FLIGHTS RETURNING TO HALIFAX STANFIELD

MAX is back. The once-controversial Boeing 737 MAX 8 will be the workhorse of overseas flights from Halifax Stanfield International this summer. PHOTO-courtesy of HIAA

“Travel is getting easier again,” proclaims a recent e-mail blast from WestJet to its customers. And, the Calgary-based airline appears to be as good as its word for overseas travel this summer from Halifax Stanfield International Airport. It’s forging ahead with the restoration of seasonal direct service to four destinations across the pond, beginning on May 1. This summer there will be a daily flight from YHZ to London Gatwick, and tri-weekly service to Glasgow and Dublin, plus four times a week to Paris.

Air Canada is also resuming its non-stop, year-round service to London Heathrow, beginning with a five-times weekly operation effective April 30, increasing to daily for the peak travel period. And starting June 24 the national flag carrier will resume daily Halifax- Boston service. American Airlines, meanwhile, will start daily service to Philadelphia on June 3, and also offer once-a-week direct flights to Boston and Washington. And, two carriers will offer seasonal service to Frankfurt beginning this spring. Condor Airlines and Lufthansa subsidiary Eurowings Discover will both fly to and from YHZ three times a week.

“We are very pleased that many of the non-stop overseas and U.S. flights that were offered at Halifax Stanfield pre-pandemic will return for summer 2022,” says airport spokesperson Tiffany Chase, although she acknowledged that some routes will be offered at lesser frequencies until more travel demand returns. “We will continue working with our airline partners to bring back more routes and increase flight frequencies in the coming months and years for the benefit of our communities.”

Even though it’s some 470 nautical miles closer to Europe than Halifax Stanfield, the picture at St. John’s International Airport is not quite so rosy. Apart from flights to and from the French territory of St. Pierre and Miquelon, YYT will remain devoid of direct service on any international route. Three years ago WestJet decided to permanently centralize all its Atlantic Canada overseas flights at Halifax. Air Canada cancelled its on-again, off-again service to London Heathrow in 2019, when the controversial Boeing MAX 8 airplanes were grounded worldwide over safety concerns. And then came the pandemic.

Air Canada told CBC News by an e-mailed statement in mid-March that there were currently no plans to add any international flying out of St. Johns, blaming the continued suspension on pandemic effects.

Interestingly, all the overseas flights resuming from Halifax by both Air Canada and WestJet will use the MAX 8 aircraft, with all safety issues apparently now resolved to the satisfaction of the regulatory authorities. 

TAA’S ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING SET FOR MAY 28

Mark your calendar! Transport Action Atlantic will hold its annual general meeting online using the Zoom platform on Saturday afternoon, May 28. An informative program focusing on convenient, affordable and sustainable transportation is being planned. interested members of the public are welcome to attend – details below!

Once again, this year’s Transport Action Atlantic’s annual general meeting will be held virtually using the ZOOM platform on Saturday, 28 May 2021, beginning at 1400 ADT (1430 NDT).

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

Current members of Transport Action Atlantic may nominate (with their consent) any other member in good standing for a position on the board. It is the board’s responsibility to choose the executive officers. Nominations should be made in advance of the meeting, and may be submitted by mail to the TAA Nominating Committee, P.O.Box 268, Dartmouth NS B2Y 3Y3, or (preferably) by e-mail to TAA secretary Michael Perry at mikeper5@nb.sympatico.ca.

Besides the required business, we plan to include guest speakers focusing on critical public transportation issues in our region, with ample opportunity for questions and discussion. Please watch for further details on our website as this program is finalized. TAA members for whom we have an e-mail address will automatically receive an invitation to the meeting. Others who’d like to participate should request credentials by e-mail to atlantic@transportaction.ca. As always, our AGM is open to the general public and the media.

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 – November 2021

Welcome to the November edition of Atlantic Transport News!

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

VIA TO ADD SECOND OCEAN FREQUENCY – BUT TRI-WEEKLY SERVICE WON’T RETURN UNTIL NEXT SUMMER

Passengers head down the platform to board the Ocean at Moncton. With an increase to 2/week frequency in December, travelling by train around the holidays will be just a little bit easier. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

The return to service for VIA’s services in Atlantic Canada has continued to be painfully slow coming, but there is finally a clearer roadmap for when the Ocean will get back to “normal” service levels (even if 3/week service is still far from adequate). On October 18th, VIA announced the final phase of the railway’s service resumption plans, which would see the Ocean expand to a twice a week service in December, and finally to the full thrice weekly service ahead of the 2022 peak season (i.e. by June 2022). This week, VIA confirmed that the first departures on the expanded 2/week service will take place on December 8, 2021, with departures from both Montreal and Halifax on Sundays and Wednesdays moving forward. This will require the return of a second train set, with a meet between the trains overnight.

It is notable that none of VIA’s other non-Corridor services (with the exception of Winnipeg-Churchill) will see any expansions beyond their current once a week service until next spring. It seems evident that the decision to expand the Ocean to 2/week operation in December is an effort to capture the heavy Christmas holiday traffic that the train typically carries. Indeed, the press release announcing the date for the second frequency quotes VIA President and CEO Cynthia Garneau as saying “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.” At this time, it’s not clear how much additional capacity VIA may plan to add for the holiday season. There will be no extra trains beyond the 2/week schedule, but adding cars to the consists would be consistent with past practice and should help capture more ridership – indeed, some trains around Christmas are already close to being sold out, as riders have been returning to the service despite the long hiatus and limited departures.

The on-board environment has also been slowly returning to more normal, with VIA once again allowing passengers to make use of the Renaissance service cars, and returning full dining car service for Sleeper passengers, with a full hot menu and the traditional dining car environment, as of October 24th. This will undoubtedly have made the on-board experience more welcoming than it was in the earliest days of service resumption, but there is still no word on any suitable replacement for the Park car, lost to history with the new bidirectional operation of the train.

-Tim Hayman

COVID NUMBERS SLOWLY IMPROVING IN REGION – BUT TRANSPORTATION CHALLENGES REMAIN

Maritime Bus is maintaining its six-days-a-week modified schedule with extra weekend trips, despite sluggish traffic numbers driven by the uptick in COVID cases. PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

The so-called “circuit-breaker” public health measures to combat COVID-19’s alarming fourth wave were still in effect across much of New Brunswick as the calendar rolled into November. Even though the surge in cases that struck all four Atlantic provinces to varying degrees had shown encouraging signs of retreat, the travel industry’s recovery from the pandemic was clearly inhibited.

Maritime Bus reported a daily average of 270 passengers in October, while maintaining its six-days-per-week reduced operating schedule, with extra weekend departures on Saturday and Sunday. It represented a slight improvement over the same month in 2020, when the buses were running only four days a week, but well short of where the company had hoped it would be at this point. Nevertheless, management feels it would not be wise to reduce service at this time. And, on the bright side, reduced travel has produced an increase in the parcel business, which helps offset the drop in passenger revenue.

The check-in area of Halifax Stanfield International Airport was largely deserted on the afternoon of November 4.
PHOTO – Ted Bartlett

Two New Brunswick cities are once again without air service to and from Halifax. St. John’s-based PAL Airlines had stepped in to partially fill the void last summer when it became apparent that Air Canada would not be resuming the local services it had provided pre-pandemic. PAL began offering flights five days a week connecting Stanfield International with Fredericton and Saint John. But while passenger loads were encourging during the summer, the airline reached the conclusion that the service wasn’t sustainable through the fall and winter months. The same situation arose with a service between Halifax and Charlottetown that lasted for only two months. A PAL spokesperson says they hope to be back in those market eventually, and meantime plan to continue their services to Ottawa, St. John’s and Deer Lake from Fredericton and Moncton on alternate days. Those routings have been using a larger Q-400 aircraft since last summer. A separate Halifax-Moncton-Wabush flight continues to offer service between YHZ and YQM twice a week.

Both airlines and airport authorities are hoping that the mandatory vaccination requirements for both passengers and crew now in effect will improve the level of public confidence in flying. Halifax Stanfield Airport reports that passenger traffic in August and September 2021 remained at about 40% of pre-pandemic traffic volumes, but officials are optimistic that the vaccine mandate will improve the picture. They are also looking forward to upcoming non-stop international services being added by various airline partners as the “sun season” approaches, when many Canadians enjoy travelling south. New or reinstated non-stop destinations from YHZ in the coming months include Cancun, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Punta Cana, Varadero, and Montego Bay. Direct Air Canada service to Toronto’s downtown Billy Bishop Airport is also scheduled to resume in December. Still awaiting confirmation are resumption of service in 2022 to several US and overseas destinations.

Meanwhile, St. John’s International was on the list of a limited number of Canadian airports that will be once again permitted to handle cross-border and overseas flights as of November 30. In a CBC interview, YYT’s CEO Peter Avery said no routes have yet been confirmed, but they are hoping that at least some of the direct flights to sun destinations will soon be back. He welcomed the Transport Canada announcement as a good first step toward eventual resumption of overseas flights as well. He noted that while international flights accounted for only about 10% of the airports traffic in pre-pandemic times, they mean a lot to the business community and the province at large.

YYT reported handling a total of 76,046 passengers in September – three times as many as the same month last year but well short of the 134,387 travellers that passed through the terminal pre-pandemic in September of 2019. There were 1107 arrivals and departures during September 2021, versus 707 a year earlier and 2007 in 2019.

Interestingly, both Marine Atlantic and Maritime Bus are exempt from the mandatory vaccination requirements. Spokespersons for both carriers said they are considered essential services. However, Marine Atlantic is continuing to observe extensive public health protocols.

And the Campobello ferry has been granted yet another one-month extension to its operating season. The link to the New Brunswick mainland via Deer Island will continue until the end of November, avoiding the challenges inherent in travelling through the US. The most critical issue for islanders at this point is the requirement to produce proof of a negative COVID test when entering Canada through the border crossing at St. Stephen NB.

PEI TAKES FIRST STEP TOWARD ISLAND-WIDE PUBLIC TRANSIT

Prince Edward Islanders in outlying communities are one step closer to escaping their dependence on private automobiles under a new provincial government initiative that launched in October. This 14-passenger vehicle is one of two serving the eastern portion of the province on two separate routes, each running three round trips daily, Monday through Friday. PHOTO – Cassidy Group

There’s been a game-changing development on the rural transit front in Prince Edward Island. Two new routes linking communities on the eastern end of the island with Charlottetown launched on October 12. The so-called “toonie transit” makes three trips a day Monday through Friday on each route, serving the Montague, Georgetown, Souris, and St. Peter’s areas. Riders pay just $2 each way, and seats can be reserved online.

The service is officially branded Island Transit, and is a division of the Cassidy Group which also operates Maritime Bus, the T3 Transit system in Charlottetown, and a link to Summerside several times a day. The provincially-funded initiative is the first step in what Premier Dennis King says is a commitment by his government to an island-wide public transit system, that will be extended to include communities west of Summerside in early 2022. He calls it an “easy decision to make”, and one that will help reduce the province’s carbon footprint.

Mike Cassidy, founder and CEO of the transportation company, says the response to date has been very encouraging, with the primary users so far being students and commuters. Feedback has been very positive, he says, while recognizing that it will take time for the public to become fully aware of the benefits and the full potential the system offers. With the very affordable fares, he anticipates considerable use by seniors and family groups, as well as for school outings.

The two separate routes each normally use a 14-passenger vehicle, but the company has the flexibility to substitute a larger bus seating 24 people if the online booking system indicates a need on a particular run.

-Ted Bartlett

TRANSIT RIDERSHIP GROWING IN NB’S LARGEST TOWN

Codiac Transpo offered an alternative to commuters while Riverview was reduced to a single crossing to Moncton. The new bridge is now open, but the enhanced transit option proved so popular it will remain in place. PHOTO – City of Moncton

The bedroom community of Riverview NB has a long-standing reputation for being very car-dependent. But that’s finally beginning to show signs of change, and transit ridership is at last showing significant growth. By an interesting twist of fate, it’s largely thanks to a new bridge across the Petitcodiac River.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arose last spring, with the removal of an environmentally-controversial causeway dating from the 1960s. The final completion and commissioning of a $60-million bridge replacement that would fully restore the free flow of the river meant that the town’s 20,000 residents would have to make do with a single river crossing for an estimated six months, beginning in April 2021.

Planning to alleviate anticipated traffic congestion included an enhanced public transit offering that would encourage Riverview commuters to leave their cars at home. And it worked – so much so that the Town Council and Codiac Transpo have agreed to leave it in place, at the current service level pending further evaluation. The new bridge opened on budget and ahead of schedule in September, but bus ridership remained high. Codiac Transpo’s director of operations Alex Grncarovski says the numbers are still about double what they were before the causeway closed, describing the outcome so far as “fabulous”, with the qualifier that it’s still too early to draw final conclusions. It’s likely that ridership will improve still further once office employees complete the transition back to their downtown work locations.

Director of operations Alex Grncorovski says for a small transit agency Codiac Transpo is doing very well indeed.

Meanwhile, across the system, improved technology will soon offer greatly improved monitoring of ridership. New fareboxes combined with back-office software are expected to yield a wealth of data for future planning purposes. Mr. Grncarovski noted that Moncton City Council recently approved additional service hours, effective November 7, that brings a number of routes another step closer to what they were before the pandemic struck.

“We’d love to be back to where we were pre-covid,” he says, adding that it’s hoped there will be evening and Sunday service extensions in place by February. “Of course, we can’t please all the people all the time, but for a small transit agency we’re doing very well indeed.”

Having worked in a supervisory role at the Toronto Transit Commission before moving to Moncton eight years ago, he was quite surprised on arrival that Codiac Transpo offered wifi on all its buses – something the TTC still doesn’t have. And Codiac users can now use their smartphones to find out exactly where their bus is. Another big-city innovation coming soon is an automatic annunciator, which will give an audio and visual message to passengers to alert them to their stop.