Students from the Maritime provinces may face an unwelcome new challenge this fall: getting home. On Aug. 7, Acadian Bus Lines announced that it would be discontinuing service in November, citing the high cost of servicing rural routes in the Maritimes. For many in the region, the bus is their link to medical exams, holiday trips home, and the only way to live car-free.
For some students, the bus is the only affordable way to visit family and friends. Chad Lefebvre, a fourth-year Saint Mary’s University student, visits friends in Sackville at least once per month. He says he can’t afford a car, which means his visits could be curtailed.
“It’s my only option. There aren’t many people travelling that way on a schedule similar to mine. The bus was simple and reliable.”
Acadian Lines is the larger of two companies that have monopolies on inter-city bus service in the Maritimes, servicing all but the Halifax–Liverpool–Yarmouth route. Although Acadian receives no subsidy from the three provincial governments, it is required to service small rural towns as part of its monopoly agreement. Currently, several shuttle services are allowed to operate vans transporting up to 15 passengers directly between the major municipalities.
Smaller carriers have been attempting to enter the inter-city market, but New Brunswick’s Motor Carrier Act, dating from 1937, prohibits competition in inter-city transport. Both Nova Scotia and PEI have similar rules prohibiting competition.
Last year, P.E.I.’s Advanced Shuttle requested that the New Brunswick Utility Review Board approve their 11 passenger vans to provide regular, scheduled service between P.E.I. and Saint John, Fredericton, and Moncton. Acadian received intervener status in the process, and Advance Shuttle’s application was eventually denied.
So far Trius Tours of Charlottetown, P.E.I., has been the only company to apply to replace Acadian Lines as the official monopoly. The company currently operates the Halifax–Liverpool–Yarmouth run, as well as a Summerside–Charlottetown commuter service and several transit systems on P.E.I.
David Anderson, owner of Advanced Shuttle, says he had already been preparing a revised application to the New Brunswick Utility Review Board when his first application was denied. He told Saint John’s News 88.9 that his company is planning to add stops in Port Elgin, Shediac, and Sackville, which are along the existing Halifax – P.E.I. route. He’s hoping to expand his P.E.I. – Halifax service and implement the proposed New Brunswick route. In the same interview he noted that the buses Acadian Lines used were simply too big to be run profitably in the region.
Some area residents began a discussion of providing a public bus service, similar to what exists in Saskatchewan. The idea was initially considered by Nova Scotia’s Minister of Transportation, Maurice Smith, who told Metro News that “It’s a very, very expensive service,” though adding that the government “would look at whatever models are out there.” The idea was quickly dropped in favour of an exploration of new private options.
For many, though, the answer can’t come soon enough.
“I either won’t go home, or hope my dad will be willing to drive two hours each way to pick me up,” says Ryan Enserink, a third-year student at SMU. [CA1]
“My home visits are pretty much limited to holidays now, because that’s all I can afford.”