2019-02-27

Use it or lose it: Maritime Bus experiences low ridership to Halifax

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>FILE PHOTO</p><p>Maritime Bus has been running three trips from Lunenburg County to Halifax-Dartmouth and three return on a daily basis since September, 2018.</p>

Half a year after launching a new Lunenburg County-Halifax bus service, the president of Maritime Bus, Mike Cassidy, isn't happy with the uptake so far.

"After six months, I'm a little bit disappointed. I'm not a 100 per cent satisfied with the numbers. I was hoping to get closer to 30 passengers per day. I'm at 15 to 18," he admitted to LighthouseNOW.

Cassidy wonders if he had been too hopeful in his projections initially.

"Were they a little bit too high? Were they unrealistic, because really bus service has been out of the area for the last six years. So perhaps I was a little bit too optimistic," he said.

He says there are "three or four "regular commuters, that are buying monthly passes, which he sees as encouraging since the company has never made monthly passes available before.

Since September, Maritime Bus has been running a total of six daily trips between Lunenburg County and Halifax, transporting both passengers and parcels.

Cassidy reports that the 10 a.m. bus leaving Lunenburg County is a good route for the company, as well as the one at 4:30 p.m.

However, the firm cancelled its 6 a.m. departure from Lunenburg.

"It was just so hard to start in Lunenburg, pick up in Bridgewater, get to Halifax, with the traffic in downtown Halifax on time, and get back out.

"If we had started at 5:30 [a.m.] in Lunenburg, it would have been better. But who wants to jump on the bus at 5-5:30? So we had to make a decision."

In any case, there were only "one or two" taking the first departure from Lunenburg, and not every day, according to Cassidy.

Lower than expected uptake for network service also surprised the company.

"I thought 50 per cent of the passengers of Lunenburg County would be leaving Lunenburg County, getting to Halifax, jumping our bus leaving Halifax and going to Truro or perhaps Antigonish, Charlottetown, Fredericton, the Valley," said Cassidy.

But there's been "very, very little network business."

In the bus company's other networks "close to 40 or 50 per cent of travellers travel through a community to get somewhere else," reports Cassidy.

Nor has there been much interest in taking the bus to the airport.

"The customer wants to travel between Halifax-Dartmouth and Lunenburg County. And that is unusual to our system," says Cassidy.

However, Cassidy is prepared to keep the buses running for a while yet, noting that the company is just a third of the way into an 18-month pilot project.

The Nova Scotia Community Transportation Network received more than $385,000 to work with Maritime Bus on a demonstration project to provide passenger and parcel bus service to Lunenburg County from September 2018 to February 29, 2020.

Nova Scotia's Communities, Culture and Heritage Minister Leo Glavine was on hand in Bridgewater to announce the new service on September 10th.

According to Cassidy, in December Maritime representatives approached 55 businesses in the county advising them of the company's parcel service.

However, Cassidy says passengers are key to the service.

"Your passengers are the leader. And then the parcels come after."

The company intends to step up its marketing to increase awareness.

"It's like anything else, you just keep trying your best, you keep the service, you try to keep the frequency. You try to create the awareness."

Cassidy admits the current passenger figures are "unsustainable" in the long-term, however.

"We do our tweaking, but at the end of the 18 months ... if the ridership and parcels are not strong enough to support a service that would make it sustainable, then really the marketplace is saying to the bus company, to Maritime Bus, and to the community, that we do not need a bus.

"Now I hope that is not going to be the case," he says.

Stewart Franck of Bridgewater, who is the chair of the Citizens For Public Transit Group, which advocated for a bus service, warned in a February 7 post on the Lunenburg Community Bulletin Board Facebook group, "Bridgewater-Halifax ... we have a BUS! USE it or LOSE it."

Cassidy says he's not thinking along those lines at the moment.

"My vocabulary today is we know we have a good service, tremendous drivers, we have tremendous agencies. We've got great customers that are using us, and we just have to find more, That's all," he said.

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