Acadian Bus Lines: Demand Driven or Restricted by Regulation?

In September students will come to Nova Scotia to start another year at University.  Some will be dropped off by Mom and Dad.  Others will make the trek with friends, or will make it here alone.  Some will drive, some will fly, and some will take the bus.  More than likely there will be some combination of public transit used to get from home to class.  For students looking to make arrival at university or college an experience, might I recommend the Acadian Bus Lines?  This will be the last year that students can ride the bus to school, because as of November 30th they are going out of business.  Acadian Coach Lines in New Brunswick and P.E.I. and Acadian Intercity Coaches in Nova Scotia’s closure is projected to impact students, the poor, local business, and tourism.

Acadian Lines is the only intercity coach line in the Maritimes, and even with a monopoly on bus services, they cannot make a profit in the region.  If there isn’t sufficient demand for a service, the service simply cannot be provided.  Under current regulations Acadian Lines had to provide service to certain areas with certain frequencies despite the fact that many of those areas lacked ridership to support or warrant a bus service. Insurance costs money, fuel costs money, bus repair costs money, bus drivers cost money.  A company must not only cover their costs, they must turn a profit in order to stay in business.  It seems that Acadian lines were choked to death by red tape.  120 people have lost their jobs.

The company was at the heart of a labour dispute during the winter.  Workers in P.E.I. and New Brunswick were locked out for five months.  By the time employees could go back to work, many had moved on to other opportunities.  During the strike shuttle services picked up those stranded without intercity bus service.  A quick Google search shows shuttles from Halifax to Cape Breton, P.E.I., New Brunswick, Yarmouth, and smaller stops along the way.  Simply call ahead and book your seat.  If you need to go to the washroom on the route, or grab a coffee the shuttle driver is more than likely to comply with your request.  If no riders need to get on or off at low density stops such as Springhill, the shuttle can just drive through.  No need to service low density routes.  The shuttles will emerge where there is demand.  And from the looks of the Acadian Lines closure, demand will rise after November 30th.

The Liberal Opposition is calling for other provincial models to be explored, such as creating a crown corporation.  Acadian Lines has lost over $12 million since 2004.  Is that a cost that the Nova Scotia government can afford to take on?  If the routes are not making money for the Acadian lines, they will not make money for the government, nor will they break even.  Acadian Lines originally allowed for profitable routes to compensate for those that didn’t make money (generally those serving small communities).  In the end the cost of operating the non-profitable routes proved too great.

Moving forward Nova Scotia needs to significantly cut the regulation of the industry.  They also need to encourage shuttle services to open, and to give them the freedom and flexibility that they need to run a good business.  A van can hold approximately 10 people, uses less fuel than a bus, and costs less to maintain.  A private company has no union to comply with, and significantly lower administration costs.  Most importantly a shuttle company can operate the roots that they find the most profitable.  For example, an individual living in Sydney may find it the most profitable to operate a Cape Breton shuttle from Sydney to Halifax and back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday .  They may find, through trial and error that there is significantly less demand for travel to Cape Breton on Tuesdays.  By empowering small business owners to make decisions that are best for their company, they will be able to stay in business, and provide service to communities across Nova Scotia.  Maybe this service will not be as frequent, or to as many communities.  But it will be a level that is manageable for the small businesses and better than no service at all.

Significantly cutting regulation, while encouraging small businesses to expand their shuttle service and encouraging new small businesses to open is the first step in a sustainable solution to this problem.  When dictated by regulation, this industry, like many others, ceases to be profitable and becomes a burden on the business involved.  When lead by demand this industry can be both profitable, and sustainable.

-Alanna Newman

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