A bitter taste
The possible suspension of the Orléans Express service has a particularly bitter taste for Gaspésiens. Several attribute to the company, and especially to the multinational Keolis, the closure of Taxi Fortin in 2018, an intercity taxi service that shuttled between Gaspé, Quebec and Montreal.
In service since 1949, the company, which was based in Cloridorme, offered a “door-to-door” service unique in Quebec. Operating a special permit that allowed it to pick up customers in Gaspésie and drop them off in Quebec and Montreal only, the local company ceased its activities in 2018 when Keolis had taken steps to revoke the right acquired by Taxi Fortin, alleging that the conditions were not respected since customers were sometimes dropped off outside the permitted areas.
“Many older people used [taxi] Fort. It was a great very personalized service where everyone was at ease. They could pick up passengers from the house and drop them off at their destination, but they stretched their license a bit and got caught. They did not have the money to fight with Keolis ”, explains André Ouellet, who often used the service.
Quebec assistance claimed
In the letter addressed to elected officials, the President and CEO of Keolis Canada, of which Orléans Express is a subsidiary, calls for financial assistance from Quebec in order to maintain its services in the regions. “Without viable financial assistance from the Government of Quebec, Keolis Canada will not be able to continue to serve all of its customers and we will have to cut services from the month of February, particularly the Gaspé region,” writes Pierre- Paul Pharand.
For the prefect of Haute-Gaspésie, this maneuver borders on blackmail. “We are playing the COVID game to make sure we get some money, and at the same time we are threatening an essential service,” laments Mr. Cormier. He believes that it is more than urgent that the government and transport come to an agreement. “Currently, there are already assistance programs for carriers. You just have to sit down at the table and see how we can work things out, because these pressures don’t work, ”concludes the prefect.
Contacted by Le Soleil, the Minister of Transport’s office notes that “following the first confinement, an assistance program of $ 8.2M to ensure the maintenance of services was put in place” and that “[le gouvernement] is aware that the reduction in ridership does not allow carriers to ensure the financial balance that allows them to maintain their services ”.
A meeting between Keolis Canada and the Minister of Transport, François Bonnardel “should take place soon”.