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A VIA Rail sign at the train station in Halifax on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The company is expected to release the next phase of its modernization plan which may include cuts to rail passenger service. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
A VIA Rail sign at the train station in Halifax on Wednesday, June 27, 2012. The company is expected to release the next phase of its modernization plan which may include cuts to rail passenger service. (Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Via Rail looks to integrate Maritime bus and rail services Add to ...

Via Rail is looking at integrating bus and rail services in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick in partnerships that the Crown corporation’s president says could be a key element in Canada’s transportation network.

Via is looking at harmonizing bus and train schedules, offering all-inclusive ticket pricing and using Via train stations as bus stops, Marc Laliberte told the Halifax Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

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“Carriers must see their networks as part of the passenger transport ecosystem,” Mr. Laliberte said.

“In any other part of country, not just here in Atlantic Canada, we are trying to do as many partnerships as we can because we feel this is the right way to go. This is the best way to invest taxpayer money.”

Mr. Laliberte said the company has already started talking to bus operators in the Maritimes and provincial governments, but would not go into further detail.

“I can tell you that there is an interest and we will pursue the discussions,” he said. “I think the message is well received.”

The move was hailed by David Jeanes, president of Transport Action Canada, a public transportation advocacy group.

“An integrated rail and bus network is really essential to the social health of the Maritimes,” Mr. Jeanes said from Ottawa. “It has worked well in Halifax, having the bus terminal in the same building as the train station.”

Via’s announcement comes just a few weeks after Acadian Lines, the only intercity bus service in the Maritimes, announced it would cease operations on Nov. 30, fogging the future of bus transportation in the region.

Prince Edward Island-based Trius Tours Ltd. has applied to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board to pick up the majority of Acadian’s routes, which will be discussed at a hearing in early October.

Paul Allen, executive director of the board, said Trius is the only company that has submitted an application to resume partial operations of the routes, although applications will be accepted until Friday.

Mr. Laliberte said a similar integrated bus and rail service that was implemented last year between Niagara Falls, Ont., and Ottawa has been successful.

“Month after month, we see an increase in ridership,” he said. “It’s simplifying the lives of our customers.”

As well, the federal Crown corporation recently formed a partnership with Air Transat to streamline their service schedules, Mr. Laliberte noted.

In June, Via announced that it would cut its Montreal-to-Halifax service in half from six to three round trips a week, beginning at the end of October.

The company said ridership on that route, known as the Ocean, has dropped by 50 per cent over the last 15 years.

The cuts are part of a national scaling back of routes by Via as it expects to cut 200 unionized jobs, or about nine per cent of its workforce.

Mr. Laliberte told the business group in Halifax that 31 of Nova Scotia’s 133 Via jobs would be lost as a result of the cut.

The federal government’s March budget reduced subsidies to the passenger rail service by $41-million over three years, but the company has insisted the trip reductions and job losses are driven by weak off-season demand.

Via also released its second quarter financial results for this year on Wednesday, which show the Crown corporation’s total revenues dropped to $68.1-million from $69.1-million for the same period last year. Its net income for the period stood at $7-million, down from $17.3-million recorded in the second quarter of 2011.

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