IG news Update,
Mike Cassidy says he clearly remembers the moment in the summer of 2012 when he took the plunge and decided to take over Acadian Lines, the regional daily bus system in the Maritime provinces.
Cassidy, who ran a charter bus service on PEI, was in the middle of a media interview, reacting to news that Acadian was going out of business after its Quebec owner claimed it was losing millions of dollars a year was doing.
“Don’t ask me what [I said]Why I said it, how I said it, except I got the words – ‘we’re going to do it’,” Cassidy said in a phone interview.
“We didn’t understand the line-running business, but we believed in the bus, we believed in our three provinces and we were going to do it.”
On December 1, Maritime Bus will complete 10 years of business.
It hasn’t been easy, especially when COVID-19 hit in the spring of 2020, but Cassidy said she’s still optimistic about the service’s future.
Cassidy wasn’t exactly new to the bus business. His company had been operating a charter service for decades, and in 2005 took over the operation of the municipal bus service in Charlottetown, which also served other outlying communities.
But, a daily service to 40 communities in three provinces was a separate kettle of fish, and Cassidy only had a few months to figure it all out.
Cassidy said, “We never did a business plan, we never put forward any financial statement numbers, we never understood the losses of previous companies.”
“We just said … there’s a need for busing in the area and we’re gonna do it, and that’s how Maritime Bus started.”
Acadian Lines ceased service at midnight on November 30, 2012. At 6 am the next day, Maritime Bus took over.
Cassidy said everyone was nervous about what the first day would be like.
“We didn’t know someone was ever going to show up at six in the morning, at 6:15. But God did.”
business grew quickly
The next few months were pretty tough to learn from, especially considering the time of year.
“Trying to learn parcels, trying to learn at Christmas time – December 2012, the amount of parcels being shipped for Christmas in the Maritimes and in Quebec and Ontario was phenomenal,” he said.
“It was chaos, but it was a thrill.”
Cassidy said the company grew rapidly and by the spring of the following year, Maritime had settled into a routine.
He added that it introduced a reservation system, which the previous company did not have.
Cassidy said that this allowed customers to know that they were guaranteed a seat and allowed the company to know how many customers were expected on each run.
He added that the company has initiated efforts to control costs as much as possible.
Maritime Bus grew from a low of 167,000 annual passengers to a high of 191,000 in 2019, a 14 percent increase.
Then COVID-19 hit, posing a major dilemma for the company.
“The Orleans Express in Quebec, the Greyhound in Ontario, they stopped service,” Cassidy recalled.
“We didn’t know what to do. Nobody understood COVID. But we sat in a room and we looked at each other senior management and I remember thinking if we close, our customers Lose faith in us and they won’t come back. Remember, we are an essential service.”
Maritime Bus operated three days a week, reduced the number of employees from 515 to 175, and endured Cassidy’s disastrous years, losing nearly $60 million in gross revenue over two years.
This endangered the northern New Brunswick route from Moncton to Edmondston, which was saved only by an influx of government funding.
He said financial support from Ottawa and the Maritime provinces helped, but the company is now only looking at returning passengers and is now serving six days a week.
“We have seen only Maritime Bus coming back since May this year, and we are very happy with how the ridership has come back. We are almost 80 per cent of 2019 ridership,” he added.
“Be naive. Be passionate. Be committed to driving a bus in your area.-Mike Cassidy
Cassidy said he believes the difficult times the sector is going through right now could be key to the company’s future.
“Now we see the cost of gasoline, we see the cost of diesel, we see the inflation cost, we see the interest cost and we see our numbers changing, where people are either giving up the car…and taking the bus. or they’re saying ‘we don’t need the vehicle,'” he said.
“I do feel with the whole new financial environment, with climate change, taking care of the world and the planet and the provinces that we live in and live in, that you’re going to see a little bit of a boom in busing.”
“It has to happen.”
Looking back on the last 10 years of operation, Cassidy said there was nothing he could have done differently, including his spontaneous decision to take the bus service.
“Maybe, when I reflect, it was the best thing to do,” he said.
“Be naive. Be passionate. Be committed to driving a bus in your area. And just say you’re going to do something.”