FREDERICTON — The president of Maritime Bus says his company is being forced to cut or modify a number of routes in New Brunswick because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Cassidy said passenger travel demand has been heavily affected since last March.
In an interview Tuesday, Cassidy said the number of passengers fell from 191,000 in 2019 to just 69,000 in 2020.
"For eight years we built a break-even, intercity essential service moving passengers and parcels throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, P.E.I. and into Quebec and Ontario. We never asked for a government cent," he said.
However, Cassidy said in December he had no choice but to ask the three Maritime governments for subsidies to help his struggling business.
He says Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island agreed to help in a three-way deal, but New Brunswick said it has a policy of not providing grant subsidies to for-profit companies.
Cassidy said that as a result, he was forced to amend schedules after learning New Brunswick's position.
He says Maritime Bus is ending service on the routes between Campbellton and Moncton and between Fredericton and Edmundston.
Cassidy says the company will no longer have direct routes between Fredericton and Saint John and Fredericton to Moncton. Instead the route will be lengthened to take in the three cities.
Cassidy said the last three weeks have been "gut-wrenching" as he had to decide to reduce service.
"I was asking for less than $100,000 a month over an eight-month period — May to December, 2020," Cassidy said.
He was asking a similar amount from Nova Scotia and a smaller amount from P.E.I. Cassidy said he'll go back to seeking a two-province deal with those provinces, but without changing the amount of money he is seeking from each province.
New Brunswick Green Leader David Coon is calling on Premier Blaine Higgs to negotiate an agreement with the company to keep its buses on the roads.
"Public transportation is an essential service for anyone who cannot afford to own a car or is unable to drive, " Coon said in a news release.
He said the loss of the bus routes will substantially reduce access to heath care services for New Brunswickers of modest means.
"The premier cannot abandon New Brunswickers in this way. He must reverse his decision and negotiate a contribution agreement," Coon said.
Asked about support for Maritime Bus during a news conference Tuesday, Higgs said it appears the company got support of about $160,000 in March.
"It seems the financial situation was strained even prior to COVID," he said.
He said the latest application for assistance was not "COVID-related, as such" and falls into a different category.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 5, 2021.
The Canadian Press