Maritime Bus plans to cut routes in New Brunswick due to the province’s refusal to grant subsidies to the struggling company but says they will delay the cuts by two weeks to allow time for affected communities to come up with a temporary bail out plan for the company. The cuts were supposed to come in effect on Friday, January 15.
The reduced service primarily affects francophone northern parts of the province, which rejected Blaine Higgs’ Conservative agenda in last fall’s election.
Higgs has no representation north of the Miramichi River, and now, New Brunswick could have no bus service there either.
The announcement angered members of the public and other political parties.
According to New Brunswick Green Party Leader David Coon, funds coming to the Province from the federal carbon tax would give Premier Higgs a second chance to sign a deal to keep the buses running to northern New Brunswick. It would also give the government time to plan for a long-term solution to extend public transportation services to more New Brunswickers.
“I am baffled by the Premier’s indifference to those New Brunswickers who depend on public transportation to connect with healthcare services, school or work. What does he see the role of government if not to support its people?,” said Coon.
For Coon, “It is just wrong to leave people living in the northern half of the province stranded without public transportation services. It is blatantly discriminatory.”
Maritime Bus reached out to the provincial governments in the Maritimes, requesting all three provinces co-share in a Grant Subsidy Support Program. Only New Brunswick rejected the request. Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island agreed to provide the subsidy to ensure rural residents had some access to transportation.
New Brunswickers are increasingly being cut off from transportation services since the start of the pandemic. This week, Air Canada announced it is ending flights in and out of Fredericton and Saint John. Via Rail services have been suspended as well. Now, bus routes servicing Fredericton to Edmundston and Moncton to Campbellton are planned to be halted.
Jessi Taylor, spokesperson for Reproductive Justice NB, is concerned how the axed bus routes will affect access to abortion care in a province that “refuses to fund abortion services in community settings.”
“Unless you pay privately or go out of provinces, abortion services are only available in two regions of the provinces, Moncton and Bathurst. If you don’t live in these two regions, you often have to travel more than once because you have to come for two different appointments and definitely not on the same day and the next day. So you either have to pay out of pocket to stay in town or you have to travel,” said Taylor.
To address inadequate transportation services in the province, Coon wants to see the “Premier mandate the Minister of Transportation to implement the public transportation strategy commissioned by the government five years ago.”
In 2015, the New Brunswick Rural and Urban Transportation Advisory Committee led by Dr. Yves Bourgeois, Dean of the Université de Moncton’s Shippagan campus, was commissioned by the Gallant government to develop a 20-year public transportation strategy for the province.
Released in 2017, the report recommended a provincial transportation strategy that included commitments to invest in transportation services as well as the promotion of initiatives that align with public, private and community assets.
It identified the need to change the province’s dependence on private vehicles sooner rather than later because of the “heavy financial burden on middle income families.” The report also pointed out that people living in poverty or those with a disability, especially in rural areas of the province, may not be able to have a car to access jobs, services and healthcare. “It diminishes the quality of life of families and communities,” the report said.
The report also recognized that “available, affordable and accessible mobility options” are instrumental in job creation, youth retention, keeping healthcare costs low, and achieving lower carbon targets, while the lack of transportation options burdens government finances as fewer people work and pay taxes, while increasing public service delivery costs.
“[I]mproving access is not only a question of fairness; it is also about tapping into our most valuable resources: our people,” the report said.
Coon argues that “public transportation is a public good, that needs to be publicly funded,” and said, “it is atrocious that the Government of New Brunswick will not provide funding to support this essential transportation infrastructure in a province where so many people lack the ability or income necessary to drive, yet need to go to the doctor frequently because of high rates of chronic disease and cancer.”
“Everywhere else in Canada 50 per cent of the costs of public transportation is publicly funded, with the balance coming from ticket sales,” said Coon.
Data Brainata is a permaculturist-in-training with an interest in politics.