Maritime Bus gets federal, provincial money to keep northern routes going

·3 min read

Northern Maritime Bus routes will keep operating for at least another year.

The company was planning to end the the Campbellton-to-Moncton and Fredericton-to-Edmundston routes Sunday evening. But shared funding from federal and provincial coffers will subsidize the company that's been struggling with decreased ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maritime Bus will get $720,000 this year, according to a provincial news release. Maritime Bus is not eligible for various federal support programs, mainly because it is a for-profit enterprise. This is why Edmundston will get the money and give it to the company in turn.

Half the funding is coming from the province and the other half from the federal government.

Frédérick Dion, the director general of the Francophone Municipalities Association, said he's happy a solution was found, but it would have been a simpler fix if the province hadn't left federal transport money on the table.

"It could have been more generous if we did accept the public transit money that was specifically for these kind of issues," he said. [This is] the best solution I think we could come up with. And we were satisfied."

Premier Blaine Higgs previously said the province misunderstood who the money was for and missed its chance to apply for federal COVID-19 assistance especially earmarked for public transit.

Financial struggles

Owner Mike Cassidy previously said the company has been coping with plummeting ridership because of the pandemic.

Cassidy said Maritime Bus carried 111,000 passengers in 2019. In 2020, he said the company had 69,000 passengers.

He said the parent company, Coach Atlantic, which also provides tours and caters to cruise ship passengers, lost about $4.9 million in net income in 2020, and revenue dropped by $33 million.

Ben Silcox/CBC
Ben Silcox/CBC

He said this money will go toward wages, fuel, repairs, mortgage and rent payments.

"It just pays my operating expenses to keep the buses on the road," he said.

He expects to see the first dollars trickle in by next month, but the buses will stay on the road in the meantime.

Cassidy said he's optimistic that health zone lockdowns will be lifted and inter-provincial travel will increase this year.

The year 2021 "isn't what we thought it was going to be," he said.

There have been more COVID-19 cases reported in New Brunswick in 2021 than in 2020. The Edmundston area is under a strict lockdown and some vaccines are delayed.

"But give us February, give us March, I am optimistic that the passenger travel within and inter-provincial ... that we will see people back on our buses," Cassidy said.

He said he hopes to never need financial assistance from the government again.

"I am hoping that we do not have to come back and talk about this again," he said.

Public, opposition pressure

Twenty-one senators from the Maritimes also wrote a letter urging the federal government to provide financial assistance to an inter-city bus service.

In the letter, they said the service is particularly important for smaller rural towns and the francophone communities in northern New Brunswick.

Opposition leaders also called on the province to step up with funding. Green Party Leader David Coon previously said New Brunswick residents need the inter-city service to access health care and other services.