Northern Maritime Bus routes spared for 2 weeks as company looks to municipalities for help

·3 min read

Maritime Bus will keep two northern routes going as it explores financial assistance options from municipalities.

In early January, the company said it can no longer afford to keep service between Moncton and Campbellton and between Fredericton and Edmundston. Owner Mike Cassidy said the last run would be on Jan. 15.

On Thursday, Cassidy confirmed the last run will now be Jan. 31 in hopes that the municipalities' Safe Restart federal COVID-19 relief fund can be used to subsidize the routes.

"I felt comfortable today to say I think we need a little bit more time to discuss how important busing is," he said. "We've been talking now in the last week, it's essential, it's important, but let's take all that talk and let's come up with an agreement."

Cassidy there has no been commitment or agreement for financial assistance, only "good bus talk."

Michel Soucy, mayor of the village of Atholville and president of the Francophone Association of New Brunswick Municipalities, said multiple municipalities in rural New Brunswick affected by the possible end to bus service have started meeting and discussing how they can keep the service going.

He said at this point, having municipalities spend their own money to subsidize the bus service is not on the table. But they are trying to find out if they can use relief funds meant for public transit to keep the inter-city service afloat.

"We're looking at the federal government, the provincial government and all other municipalities that are involved in the province to find a solution," he said. "Because we feel that this service is really an essential service for the people of northern New Brunswick."

The federal government has given New Brunswick $41.1 million in relief funding for municipalities.

Premier Blaine Higgs previously turned his back on possible millions in transit-specific federal relief cash because of a misunderstanding.

Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada
Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada

At a COVID-19 media briefing Thursday, Higgs said it's possible the province will send some funding to Maritime Bus before the end of the pandemic.

"The restart money that the federal government had moved to municipalities, that is for COVID related expenses. And this is confirmed as a COVID related expense," he said.

Higgs said he doesn't have details on exactly how funding will happen but he hopes to see things resolved in the next week.

Soucy said the two weeks will be valuable time while rural municipalities try to figure out how to keep the buses going, especially considering how isolated rural areas have been during the pandemic.

"There's people that needs that type of service, to get health services, for example," he said "And it's good for the economy also because we have companies that are using this bus system to transport goods from one municipality or one region to another."

COVID-related losses

Cassidy previously said company has been coping with plummeting ridership because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cassidy said Maritime Bus moved 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.