Province frets over struggling rail and bus service
FREDERICTON - Worried about a plunge in passengers, the province is trying to arrange a meeting with one of the region's biggest rail services and long-distance bus lines.
For the last two years, Acadian Coach Lines has had a drastic drop in paying customers. The number of passengers taking Via Rail has also been in sharp decline since 1996
in a province that traditionally had one of the highest ridership per capita in Canada for both trains and inter-urban buses.
The drop - and complaints from people who worry about poor scheduling between the rail line and bus service - has convinced the New Brunswick government to get the three sides together to work on solutions.
"The trend line is steadily down," said Margaret Grant-McGivney, an assistant deputy minister of Transportation, who addressed a Saturday meeting of Transport Action Atlantic, an advocacy group for public transport. "This creates a significant concern for us."
Grant-McGivney told the small gathering in downtown Fredericton that the province had unsuccessfully lobbied Via in recent years to re-introduce passenger rail service between Saint John and Moncton, and on an old rail line that crosses New Brunswick diagonally between Moncton and Edmundston. The company, she said, didn't respond to the province's entreaties.
Members of the group complained at length about the lack of connectivity between bus routes and the rail service, which has stops along one line in Halifax, Moncton, Miramichi, Bathurst and Campbellton.
For instance, the Acadian bus departs six days a week from the rail station in downtown Moncton before the train arrives, forcing people who want to continue to Saint John by bus to wait almost two hours. "It would be laughable if it wasn't so serious," said board member Ted Bartlett of Riverview.
The assistant deputy minister said the government is also planning to review the regulatory regime for inter-urban bus service to see if it's working properly. As a scheduled, long-distance bus service, Acadian has to apply to the province's regulator, the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board, if it wants to change schedules, routes, fares and level of service.
Despite the oversight, Acadian's passenger numbers have plummeted: Between 2008 and 2009, the company lost 18.7 per cent of its New Brunswick ridership and between 2009 and 2010 it lost a further 16.9 per cent
Members of the advocacy group blamed Acadian for the drop, arguing that the company has made poor decisions, such as building its new bus stations in Saint John and Fredericton outside the downtown areas. They say this leaves passengers stranded or forces them to take a city bus or cab to their final destination.
To underline their point, Nova Scotia members of the group said they had planned on taking the bus to the Fredericton board meeting but decided against it because the station on the outskirts of New Brunswick's capital city was too far from downtown.
"We're carpooling," said president Marcus Garnet of Darmouth, N.S. "You pay more for your cab fare to the bus station than it's worth."