In the summer of 2012, Mike Cassidy was one of many Maritimers who were shocked to hear Acadian Lines was ending its bus service in the region.
Groupe Orleans Express, its parent company, announced it would pull the plug on Nov. 30, 2012 after struggling financially with the company — losing close to $12 million — since acquiring it in 2004.
At the time, it was the largest intercity bus service in the Maritimes, and its closure was set to leave tons of residents and workers stranded.
"I couldn't believe it," Mike Cassidy tells CityNews Halifax. "Being a bus person, a Maritimer, I think I stood up in front of the media and I uttered, 'I want to do the routes. I want to continue what Acadian Lines has had going since 1937, 1938 in the province.
"We put together a team and we launched Maritime Bus Dec. 1, 2012, because I believe in public transportation, the parcels to move, I want the blood and medical supplies to move the way we've always had."
Cassidy, who owns Maritime Bus, started the company's 10th-year last week, but it hasn't been completely lucrative.
He says both 2021 and 2020 have been disastrous and that the financial losses have been tremendous. The company lost $33 million in gross revenue last year and it's expected to lose $25 million in gross revenue in 2021.
Normally, Maritime Bus does $42 million in total sales; half of that revenue is related to cruise ships and multi-day tours.
Transport Canada regulations due to COVID-19 forced a cruise ship ban to the Maritimes; multi-day tours offered to tourists from outside the region only partially resumed this year.
Still, Cassidy says he's committed to keeping Maritime Bus operating at its current levels.
"No regrets," he says. "It's a tough industry. I was in the trucking business years ago in the '80s and I thought that was tough. But I think I have to say that the bussing might be a little tougher. COVID-19 has certainly taken its toll financially and I guess at sometimes you could say mentally."
One thing Cassidy notes is how much of a toll it is to know how many employees have yet to be welcomed back to the company.
"We passed out 515 T4's in 2019," he says. "This year, we might be making up 175 T4s. I'm looking forward to 2022 when we can bring back our employees and we have full buses and we're looking after the cruise ships and the multi-day tours and more and more people are travelling on Maritime Bus."
Cassidy says the company is confident that they'll be able to get a full team back when tourism makes a stronger return.
However, he says it's unfortunate no one can be certain what 2022 will look like regarding the pandemic.
"We thought it was going to be the rebound year," he says. "We don't even know that right now with the situation of the world, of our country and our region with COVID-19."
He says in Charlottetown, where Maritime Bus has its backlot, there are around 30 buses that have been parked since early November 2019.
"They look sad," he says. "There's a few little weeds up along the sides where you can't cut and you can't pull because they're on the side of the bus. They just look neglected.
"Now, our job is — starting in January, as soon as the mechanics come back from Christmas holidays — we've got to bring them in. I guarantee you, it's going to be close to $25,000 a bus."
He says those costs will have to go towards any corrosion, fixing the equipment and simply bringing the buses back to safety standards.
Cassidy says he wants all levels of government to come together and assist the industry, especially with the buses that cater to cruise ship passengers visiting Atlantic Canadian ports. He'd also like to see talks of a regional transportation plan.
But despite all the challenges, Cassidy's heart is in supporting the local community.
"I'm proud to be here in the Maritimes as a Maritimer looking after Maritimers," says Cassidy.