Acadian can’t cut route: EUB

Alyssa Mosher – The Aquinian –

Acadian Bus Lines is not allowed to cut the direct round-trip route from Fredericton to Miramichi, as proposed last March.

Following a hearing with the bus company two weeks ago, the New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board (EUB) decided the cut was not in the best interest of the people of the province.

Acadian said ridership from Fredericton to Miramichi had declined 20 per cent over the past year from roughly 14 passengers per trip in 2008 to 11 passengers in 2009. Ridership on the trip back from Miramichi to Fredericton had declined from about 16 to 12 passengers. Because of this, Acadian lost over $176,000 along this route alone.

After a formal hearing and public session three months ago, as well as several written oppositions to the proposal, the EUB decided to reduce service between Fredericton and Miramichi to three times each week instead of cutting it completely. The board decided that this would serve the public’s needs and reduce some of the revenue lost for Acadian Lines.

Ella Henry, president of the St. Thomas Student’s Union, was one of the formal interveners. She said she’s satisfied with the decision.

A 20 per cent decline in ridership from Fredericton to Miramichi cost Acadian over $176,000 in 2009 (Google).

“Certainly we would have preferred that there be no cuts to service,” she said. “But we definitely didn’t go into it thinking that the Energy and Utilities Board would ever decide…to not let Acadian cut anything.”

“I think the shear…number and breath of the people in terms of intervening is what made the Energy and Utilities Board make the decision they did because,” she said. “If you look at past decisions of the Energy and Utilities Board, it’s pretty rare that they do anything other than grant the entire application.”

According to the EUB’s written decision, section 4(9) of the Motor Carrier Act defines the boar

d’s authority and says the board “shall grant the application unless it appears…detrimental to the interests of the users of public transportation services…”

The efforts of New Brunswickers showed that certain bus route cuts would be “detrimental” to those of smaller communities.

However, Henry says the process in coming to this conclusion is imbalanced.

“Acadian has…teams of lawyers and the money to essentially have someone sp end a few months working on this and so they can put forward an application every six months if they want to,” she said.

“Then it’s up to all these smaller groups from around the province to intervene.”

One of Acadian’s proposals to the EUB was to increase bus service to four “corridor” cities – Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton and Halifax – while cutting certain routes like Fredericton to Miramichi.

The company gains most of its revenue from these four cities. These specific route increases, along with the cuts to more vacant bus routes, would increase revenue for Acadian.

Henry thinks the company has to rethink its customer service strategy.

“Their proposal was to cut service to all these routes like Fredericton to Miramichi,” she said. “But they surveyed people in the cities where they wanted to increase service and said, ‘Look, all the respondents want us to increase service here…’ You didn’t ask anywhere along this route to Miramichi if they wanted to increase service from Moncton to Halifax at the expense of Fredericton to Miramichi.”

“I think they’re searching after some mythical market of people who want to travel from Fredericton to Moncton in the morning for business and come back in the evening,” Henry said. “I think the number of those people [is] going to relatively small because the market they’re targeting there is people who already have cars.”

“They sort of prefer to ignore their existing market – people who rely on the bus – because they’re assuming those people will always take the bus no matter what.”

Henry hopes the provincial government will step in to either enhance the power of the EUB, so they can completely deny an application such as Acadian’s, or improve bus transportation on a provincial level.

Acadian Lines’ final schedule – including the Fredericton to Miramichi route – must be released for review on or within 30 days after October 1.

New Brunswick Energy and Utilities Board’s final decision:

– cut route portion between St. Stephen and Bangor, Maine

-reduce bus service between Fredericton and Miramichi route to three-times-per-week

-reduce bus service between Saint John and Bangor route to three-times-per-week

-reduce service for route segment between Fredericton and Riviere-du-Loup, PQC

-cut Friday and Sunday service between Moncton and Charlottetown, PEI

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