Atlantic passenger travel companies adding surcharges to ease pain of fuel prices

Passenger travel companies in Atlantic Canada are feeling the pinch of rising fuel prices.

Maritime Bus has imposed a fuel surcharge for its intercity routes, but owner Mike Cassidy says he's trying to keep rates down to encourage people to use his buses. The company is also trying to reduce the amount of idling time for buses in an effort to cut fuel consumption.

"We're just coming off the pandemic ... and we would rather have riders on the bus, and we do not want to raise our prices," he said in an interview Monday. "Our business is still people moving people. It's a fine balancing act." The surcharge varies by distance, with the maximum at $10.64.

Cassidy said with rising fuel prices, he noticed more university students travelling home by bus last month, rather than parents making the trip to pick them up by car.

He said many people are addicted to their personal cars, but he thinks if fuel prices continue to rise, more will opt to ride the bus for trips within the region.

"What is the price per litre that you are going to give up your addiction and travel on the bus?" he asked. "At $1.50 there wasn't a big conversion. At $1.80 there wasn't a big conversion. Now at $1.90 to $2 for a litre of gas, is it getting to the point where even the diehard passenger travel people, will they make the decision to save money?"

The region's largest taxi company -- Casino Taxi in Halifax -- has imposed a $1.30 fuel surcharge on each fare to help compensate its drivers.

Company president Brian Herman says the surcharge is paid directly to the drivers, who are facing fuel prices approaching $2 per litre.

He says Halifax city council is expected to approve a rate increase in the coming weeks, and the surcharge will be removed at that time.

"We have to be careful not to price ourselves too high, because we see this as a temporary increase in the price of fuel. It's not going to stay at $1.90 per litre forever. We have to make sure it's an appropriate response," Herman said in an interview Monday.

Casino acts as a dispatch company for 340 cars that are owned by the drivers. Herman said drivers are paying about $150 extra per week for gas as a result of price increases since the start of the year.

"We felt it was only appropriate to take some steps to support their ability to keep feeding their families and earning a reasonable living. None of that goes to the company -- 100 per cent goes to the drivers," he said.

Herman said it's hard to tell if some people are parking their personal vehicles and opting to take a cab instead, but he says many people are working from home to avoid commuting.

The Tire and Rubber Association of Canada released survey results Monday indicating gas prices will impact travel in Atlantic Canada this summer. According to the survey conducted April 8-10 by Leger, 71 per cent of Atlantic Canadian drivers are planning to cancel or limit road trips. The survey also found that 81 per cent believe high gas prices are here to stay.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2022.