Upcoming summer season will be crucial for Newfoundland bus company, says owner

·2 min read
DRL Coach Lines is struggling with high fuel prices and pandemic losses.  (Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board - image credit)
DRL Coach Lines is struggling with high fuel prices and pandemic losses. (Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board - image credit)
Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board
Canadian Public Transit Discussion Board

The owner of a Newfoundland passenger bus company says ridership is down, gas prices are up — and he doesn't know how long his company can continue.

Jason Roberts, owner of DRL Coach Lines, says his company is losing money every month.

"With the pandemic, we were down to about 10 or 12 per cent of our normal ridership. Even prior to the pandemic, our ridership, overall, is down over the last 15 years — probably 50-60 per cent of what it was at that time," Roberts told CBC News on Thursday.

"Our bus service is up a little bit now in comparison to the pandemic."

With ridership down and fuel prices up, the company's bottom line is suffering. Roberts said his fuel bill today is double what it was a year ago, which in turn increases the company's fuel surcharge.

But DRL has been operating in Newfoundland for 26 years and, Roberts said he still has hope things will begin to rebound.

"Hopefully it might come back to close to break-even in the next little while and hopefully we can grow it back to where it is a marginal, profitable business again," he said.

"Maybe the price of gas for everyone else might give us a little more ridership. I think more and more people are looking and saying, 'Can we use more public transit?'"

Meg Roberts/CBC
Meg Roberts/CBC

If things continue to decline, Roberts said, he may have to shut down the bus service. He said DRL is not eligible for federal funding for rural transportation affected by the pandemic.

The summer season will be an indicator of what the future will hold, he said.

"If ridership don't go up and your revenue don't go up, why bother?"

Public transit for rural N.L.

Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador wants public transit offered in smaller communities and rural areas that dot the province.

Amy Coady, MNL president of MNL and a Grand Falls-Windsor town councillor, said Thursday a couple of communities on the Northern Peninsula are preparing to launch their own service with a small bus, while Happy Valley-Goose Bay in Labrador is also readying to start its own.

Coady said there has always been a need for such services.

"It's just that now when you look at the rising costs in our communities and to individuals, the cost of gas, the cost of living … we look at our communities and the types of people that we serve in our communities and their specific needs," she said.

"We're looking at the transportation trends that were happening years ago and now it's time to refocus and think about maybe we should be bringing back some of these services to residents."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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