Charlottetown is the capital and largest city in Prince Edward Island (PEI). It has a population of roughly 32,000 and is about 26 1/2 square miles. Located on the south shore of PEI, it is bordered by the Hillsborough River, the North River and the Charlottetown Harbor. With a high number of students and growing tourism industry, the community was facing increased traffic congestion and a shortage of downtown parking.
Though it has had a taxi fleet, a city-subsidized bus service for seniors, and door-to-door service for persons with disabilities, PEI was the only province without a formal public transit system. The city council became focused on the importance of a public transit system and began to look for a cost-effective alternative to private transportation services, providing a system that would service a variety of markets.
In 2003 the city issued a request for proposal to contract for a transit system. Trius Tours Ltd., a private motorcoach company, won the bid and met that challenge.
I spoke with Michael Cassidy, owner of Trius Tours Ltd. and Trius Transit Inc., operating under the name of Charlottetown Transit System, to learn what a motorcoach company brought to the public transportation table.
Getting into Transportation
Trius Tours has been based out of Charlottetown since 1986. Cassidy explains, “We do charter motorcoach work in the province of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island and run trips into the states, down into Florida, and to Ontario and Quebec.”
Cassidy purchased Trius Tours in April 2005. “I was a real estate developer with the inland Great George, a beautiful heritage development in downtown Charlottetown.” The Great George is a cluster of 13 heritage buildings located in the historic district in downtown Charlottetown; a swank property affording guests an experience with rich history and personality. During this time, it was a contract that connected Cassidy with Trius Tours.
In 1997 the Confederation Bridge, the longest bridge over ice-covered waters, was built, connecting New Brunswick and PEI. Cassidy was awarded a contract for Confederation Bridge fabrication yard tours. He went to George Brookins, owner of Trius Tours, because he needed buses to do the tours.
“In February of ’05 I had my son at a hockey rink in the country here in Prince Edward Island. I pulled into this country rink and there was George Brookins backing a bus in,” he recalls. “George Brookins would have been about 66/67 at that time. I went over to him and I said, ‘George, you’re still driving a bus.’
“‘Yes Mike, I think it’s getting close to time that maybe I should be thinking about selling,’” he remembers Brookins saying. “And this was a Friday night. And I said, ‘George, I’d love to talk to you about Trius Tours,’ and Monday morning — three days later — I had, I’ll call it an agreement in principle to purchase.
“And he stayed on. He’s 70 years old and he is still with us, he is our sales,” Cassidy mentions of Brookins. And as he explains, it’s very fitting. “He tried transit on behalf of the city years ago. He was a believer in transportation, he was the first man to bring a bus to Prince Edward Island in 1986 and together we have Trius Tours, in a sense, and we have the transit.”
Bringing public transportation to Prince Edward Island
Cassidy explains to me what the city was looking for. “The city of Charlottetown said, ‘let’s get four buses, four routes and we can afford to subsidize that amount of activity for frequency and coverage within our city.’
“So I set out with them, I put in a private public partnership arrangement in my proposal. We organized. We developed four routes. We ordered four buses.” Regarding the proposal he says, “We came to them with marketing, we came to them with a turnkey operation. I had the motorcaoch, I had all the mechanics; I had the repair shop.”