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The owner of a Maritime motor coach business says he could lose more than $50 million due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mike Cassidy said his Maritime Bus Coach Atlantic fleet lost $33 million in gross revenue last year, compared to what it made in 2019, and is estimating a further $20 million in losses this year.
“We don’t see a rebound (this year)," Cassidy said, anticipating that the situation with COVID-19 outside of Atlantic Canada will mean a second straight tourism season without cruise ships or visitors from Ontario and Quebec.
“We are worried about our tourism business in 2021 when you look at Ontario and Quebec in the situation they’re in. 2021 could be worse than 2020."
Cassidy is also set to announce this week that he will be pulling some of his buses off the road in certain areas of New Brunswick due to the lack of demand.
While passenger fares have fallen off a cliff in the motor coach business, Cassidy said December was one of the best months Maritime Bus and Coach Atlantic has ever had in parcel delivery.
Three busloads packed with Christmas parcels were leaving P.E.I. on a daily basis during a two-week period that began on Dec. 10.
Passenger-wise, the motor coach business went from 17,500 fares in December 2019 to 3,000 last month. However, those same buses delivered 20,000 parcels last month compared to 7,000 parcels in December 2019, primarily because non-essential travel isn’t permitted to and from P.E.I.
“We had one day, we couldn’t believe it, where 3,600 parcels came into our P.E.I. terminal in one day."
Cassidy also manages the T3 Transit system for the municipalities of Charlottetown, Cornwall and Stratford.
He said passenger fares were down 38 per cent overall in 2020 compared to the year before, from 694,672 in 2019 to 433,792 last year.
On a month-by-month basis, fares fell 24 per cent in March when public health restrictions were put in place and a whopping 74 per cent in April and 64 per cent in May. Since then, ridership has averaged about 50 per cent of capacity each month.
Cassidy said through it all he was determined to keep the buses on the road despite the challenges.
“We have to find a solution to COVID-19. There are people who do not have access to a motor vehicle that use the bus, from all walks of life, for all reasons, whether it’s to travel to work, for an appointment, to meet family, friends and relatives, to grocery shop or to go to school in Halifax."
Still, many people are working from home, as are many post-secondary students, although Holland College is having some in-person classes.
Cassidy is confident transit will bounce back. Fares are slowly inching back up.
He also notes that the Charlottetown-area system outpaced the national transit system average in 2019. The national average that year, based on numbers from the Canadian Urban Transit Association, was 21.5 passenger fares per service hour. The Charlottetown-area numbers in 2019 were 33 passenger fares per service hour.
The local number dropped to 20 passenger fares per service hour in 2020, just below the national average.
“There is a brightness and a light at the end of the tunnel."
Following are the purchase plans for T3 Transit under the capital budgets of Charlottetown, Cornwall and Stratford:
- Six diesel buses and two mini-diesel buses are on order from the 2019 capital budgets.
- The two mini-buses will be arriving the week of Jan. 24.
- Three of the big diesel buses should arrive in February, and the other three are expected to arrive by July.
- The manager of the service hopes to order two electric buses for delivery in 2022 but has yet to receive final approval.
Dave Stewart is The Guardian's municipal reporter.