Many Saskatchewan Transportation Company passengers were temporarily left in the lurch when trips were cancelled Wednesday while STC broke the news to its workers that the Crown company is shutting down.
Phyllis Hollinger climbed on board in Regina this morning after catching the bus in from Moose Jaw. “I said, ‘I’m going to Melville.’ (The driver) said, ‘No you’re not.’ ”
Then she learned STC is falling to budget cuts. “They can’t do that,” said Hollinger. “I don’t like that idea …To shut down the whole STC company — that’s stupid,” she added.
Like many of those stalled when routes were cancelled, the Melville woman was sent on her way in a cab by STC. Bus service was to resume Thursday afternoon.
As announced in Wednesday’s budget speech, STC will end its freight service May 19 and its passenger service May 31. The cuts affect 224 workers.
Finance Minister Kevin Doherty said closing down the company, which serves 253 communities on 25 routes, was “a very, very difficult decision.
“The fact of the matter is that 230 people’s lives have been changed today … through no fault of their own,” he added.
he problem is not enough people have been filling STC’s buses for decades. STC had almost 790,000 riders in 1980, but the projection for 2016/17 is only 182,000. The last time STC made money was in 1979.
“Every year, $10 million to $11 million was being expended to subsidize STC … $85 million over the next five years to maintain everything that we were doing at STC,” said Doherty.
Raquel Crizaldo, a passenger trying to get home to Oxbow, has been taking the bus to Regina weekly for nearly two years to take a class required for her employment. “I don’t know what I’ll do now,” she said. However, Crizaldo also appreciates the government’s dilemma. She’s often the only rider from Oxbow to Estevan, where a few more people might get on. “I’m going to suffer, but I agree … They’re wasting a lot of money.”
Norm Patrick of Wadena similarly had no problem finding a seat on the bus. But for those, like him, who use the service to get to medical appointments, it’s appreciated. “I’m really disappointed to see it go.”
Efforts to prop up STC over the years have included a luxury executive service between Regina and Saskatoon, seat sales for seniors, and smaller, fuel-efficient buses. Still, only one route is profitable today — the run between Regina and Saskatoon.
Samantha Delorme was trying to get back to Yorkton. “I was surprised because I wasn’t given any notice at all,” she said of the cancellation. Then she learned what was behind the delay. “I don’t use the bus that often but have been relying on it to come to Regina for dental work,” she said. The government says a private company may pick up some of the routes. It expects to put the buses up for sale. The province couldn’t provide a figure Wednesday on the cost of severance for STC’s unionized workers.
A spokesman for Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1374, didn’t respond to an interview request Wednesday.
On its Facebook page Thursday morning, the ATU posted the message: “We were shocked, appalled and dismayed by the news that after 70 years of continual service in Saskatchewan, the provincial government has decided to shutter STC as of May 31, 2017. We are all still reeling from this distressing news, as are our 200+ members that are affected by this poorly made decision … As a Crown property, unlike a privately owned corporation, they were not only beholden to profit, but to continuously provide safe and invaluable inter-city transit to those who lived outside the major cities.”
Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said workers will struggle with the loss of those “decent paying jobs.” He also worries the shut down signals something else. “Nothing is sacred. They’re prepared to sell whatever,” Hubich added.
The NDP’s Cathy Sproule expressed similar fears. “We have a minister who promised a year ago that they wouldn’t be touching the STC because of the valuable service that it provides,” she said.
Ray Orb, president of the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities, said communities rely heavily on STC, for moving goods as well as people. “I wish there was some alternative way that we could still operate a publicly owned transportation system.”
STC opened a new $26.2-million terminal and head office building in downtown Regina in November 2008. Doherty said it will take time to determine “what is the best way to dispose of those assets.”