Cape Breton University students say they enjoy going to school but are having problems getting there.
Ekam Dhingra, living in Sydney and originally from India, is a second-year CBU student in the bachelor of engineering transfer program, She says the Transit Cape Breton situation is so difficult right now that she has been forced to travel by taxi.
“Every time I try to take a bus I miss a class.," she explained.
Although her class times vary, most of the time they start around 8:30-8:45. As a result, she would find herself at the Ashby Road-Whitney Avenue bus stop at 7:45 a.m. to try to catch an 8:10 a.m. bus.
“The last time I did that four buses passed by and they said they were full and I was standing there for 40 minutes and I missed my lab.”
Dhingra said she knows she’s speaking for about 100 other people throughout the bus route who are traveling at the same time daily. There are times lineups are so long, it takes four buses to accommodate the students, she added.
On Sept. 12, frustrated at a bus stop — with 15 other students around her feeling the same way —she posted on social media: “As grateful as I am of all the initiatives that have been taken in the past, this situation is still absolutely absurd!”
Last year, Dhingra said, there were similar issues and measures were taken to get more buses on the road.
“My point is we sometimes have to wait 45 minutes to an hour and in the winter it will be impossible to do that.”
CBU student Gobindpreet Singh, also from India and now living in Sydney, said Monday he was at the Ashby Road-Whitney Avenue bus stop in Sydney at 8 a.m. but didn’t get a bus until 9:15 — the fourth bus that went by. Upwards of 15-25 students are at the bus stops this time of day.
“I missed my first class,” he said.
As well as the buses being too full and the wait times too long, Singh said another issue is a lack of buses in other areas.
Although they had rented a house in Victoria Mines, there weren’t any buses traveling to that area so three months ago they had to find another place to live in Sydney.
“If there were more buses going to New Waterford and Glace Bay, the housing problem would be solved as well, he said. “Very few buses go there.”
Harleen Kaur, another CBU student from India, was waiting for a bus from Sydney to CBU Tuesday morning. With so many students waiting for the buses with the goal of trying to get a seat, that this usually means having to get to the bus stop an hour before it arrives, she said.
“Then it’s completely full; they don’t allow another person in.”
As a result, Kaur had to wait another hour. Kaur said the issue is there are no scheduled times for the extra buses. When they check on the internet there’s no time table.
Kaur said it would help if there was a schedule posted where students could check to see what times the buses were scheduled or if one had to detour and would be late.
“Nowadays, everyone has the internet. It would be very easy for students to look up the times.”
On Tuesday, Samual Shaji, executive vice-president of the CBU Students' Union and deputy chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students-Nova Scotia, posted on social media for any students having busing issues to come to the cafeteria at 1:30 p.m.
Officials at CBU said they are also aware of concerns. Lenore Parsley, communications manager for CBU, said Cape Breton University does have an MOU with CBU Transit and they’ve been working closely with them over the past year to improve service for the CBU community.
“We will continue to work with the CBRM and address issues. Transit is provincially funded.”
Derek Mombourquette, MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier, said he hasn’t had any direct calls to his office regarding this transit issue but, as local MLA, he is constantly monitoring what is being talked about in the community.
Mombourquette, also Nova Scotia's minister of energy and mines, described the influx of international students in Cape Breton as "a great story." In February Mombourquette announced $250,000 in provincial funding for three new buses.
"With the amazing story of the international students in our community we do our best to respond and one of the ways we responded was to a request for new buses which we provided,” he said.
Jillian Moore, communications for the CBRM, said the CBRM is familiar with the transit concerns of students and is working to address them.
“Our manager and supervisor are out at the bus stops at peak times, seeing how many students are there, and we're doing our best to accommodate,” she said. “Over the past three years we tripled our fleets and tripled the amount of runs which is huge.”
As well, Moore said, in addition to the regularly scheduled route one service from Sydney to CBU, Glace Bay and return, four extra buses run directly to CBU during peak hours.
“The CBRM is working on having these four extra buses on at all times, not only peak hours.”
Moore said their standard run from Sydney to Glace Bay is at the top of the hour every hour through the entire day. Although there are scheduled stops with the main bus, it depends on where it gets full as to whether it can stop at the other bus stops.
There’s no dedicated schedule for the extra buses as it depends on how many students are at each stop and when it will arrive at the next one.
“These extra buses go back and forth, back and forth, just to the university,” Moore said. “Right now we are working to get them on continuously, not only peak hours.”
As well as extra buses running from Sydney to CBU, there are also extra buses going from CBU to Glace Bay.
Moore said the CBRM has always been in contact with CBU. Last year CBU paid for two new buses to help with the overflow.
“CBU has been a great partner in working to improve transit.”
In Sept. 2018, CBU and the CBRM signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to address student transit usage and improve transit service for students and CBRM residents. Improvements include CBU contributing $100,000 for a bus for a Sunday service and $80,000 towards a second Sunday bus.
The CBRM has 33 buses, eight of which are handi-trans.
Measures the Cape Breton Regional Municipality has taken the past three years to improve transit services for students.
• Purchased seven new buses over the last year.
• Tripled fleet and the amount of runs in the last three years.
• In addition to the regularly scheduled Route 1 service from Sydney–CBU–Glace Bay and return, four extra buses act as runs directly to CBU during peak hours.
• The CBRM is working on having these four extra buses on at all times, not only peak hours.
• The CBRM is in the process of hiring new transit drivers.
• Routes available online: http://cbrm.ns.ca/transit