Friday, August 10, 2012

Acadian Lines Shutting Down

I know this is about buses, not trains, but I do have an interest in public transit in general.

Acadian, the bus company serving the Maritimes, announced it is shutting down its Maritime operations by the end of November. Citing heavy losses, they say it is not economic to continue operation.

Acadian is owned by Groupe Orléans Express. They used to be known as SMT in New Brunswick and were purchased from J.D. Irving in 2004.

The company currently serves all major centres in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. You can view a map or download a PDF.

The Nova Scotia government and the driver's union say they are open to talks to maintain service.

In the meantime, Trius Tours says it is preparing a pitch to governments to maintain service. I used Trius' services when I lived in Oromocto and they certainly have transit experience.

Here's the thing. Bus service in the Maritimes is highly regulated and Acadian is forced to serve low-traffic areas in order to be allowed to serve the high-traffic areas as well. The idea is that the profit from high-traffic routes offsets the losses from the other routes. VIA Rail has the same model, Air Canada has the same model, and it repeats everywhere. The problem comes when there is not enough income from the high-traffic routes to cover losses.

Acadian has been struggling for some time. They had a labour dispute with their employees and locked them out over the winter. They claim they lost $2 million last year. At the time, the New Brunswick government said they would not be providing subsidies.

My opinion? Here's a few things that need to be done to help fix this mess.

  • Allow a mix of large and small companies to provide service over routes. Low-traffic routes are best served by local companies using small vehicles like vans to provide personalized services, while the main corridor routes are best served by the big buses.
  • Continue to regulate routes to prevent "pirate" companies from siphoning riders from the regulated companies.
  • Subsidize public transit. It is a public service and it needs to be available for all taxpayers. I'm not saying that there needs to be a bus through Napadogan or Cork, but it's not realistic to expect that all routes can be profitable.
  • Integrate schedules. In the past several years, passengers have not been able to connect between VIA Rail's Ocean and the Acadian buses due to slow orders in New Brunswick. All public transit needs to be integrated to provide the best service.
  • Improve service. People need to want to use public transit, and it needs to be easy to use. Recent Acadian changes like moving the bus terminal from downtown Fredericton out into the boonies does not help!

Let's hope a solution can be found soon to maintain and hopefully improve service.

News articles:

3 comments:

Taylor said...

A lot of my friends are really upset about this, many travel from Nova Scotia and Northern New Brunswick to attend school in Chtown.... I told them to take the train!

Unknown said...

The issue with both Via Rail and Acadian Bus line is that there is no density in the north to cover off the cost of the hard assets. There is barely enough to cover off the operating costs.

From an economics perspective, the taxpayer and not necessarily the user is paying for the construction and maintenance of the highway system already. Acadian Bus is already being supported as are the various trucking firms.

So, what is the solution?

In the long run, the cost of the highways should be removed from the provincial tax base (revenue and expense). The cost of the system should be absorbed by the user with the best approach being either ton/mile or wheel/mile. This matches the wear to the infrastructure. The impact of this would be a migration from truck and passenger car to rail and bus.

However, it will take courage to do this and from what I see, the political will to do the right thing does not exist.

Steve Boyko said...

Hard to take the train to Charlottetown, Taylor! :(

Unknown, do you recall the furor that New Brunswick voters had over tolls on the Trans-Canada? User-pay on the highway would be extremely difficult to get through. I agree it makes sense but I just don't see it happening any time soon.