Will Saskatchewan miss STC now?

You can forgive local residents for feeling apathetic about the demise of Greyhound in Western Canada.

After all, Greyhound wasn’t serving the Estevan area. We aren’t losing any bus services, and we aren’t losing another key link from Estevan to Regina, Saskatoon and other larger centres.

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But there are people in Saskatchewan, in communities like Swift Current, Yorkton and North Battleford, who genuinely relied on Greyhound for transportation. Due to disability, age or other valid reasons, they don’t have a driver’s licence, and they don’t have another means to get to the cities for doctor’s appointment and other needs.

It’s a refrain being heard in other Western Canadian provinces. People are genuinely going to miss Greyhound when it ceases virtually all of its western routes on Nov. 1, even though fewer people were using its services.

The loss of Greyhound bus services in Saskatchewan came less than 18 months after another bus company, the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, was shuttered in this province. At the time, it was hoped that when STC closed shop, the private sector would step in and provide the services that were delivered by STC.

It hasn’t happened. Yes, there have been companies that have stepped up and taken care of some of the shipping services that businesses count on. And we have seen some businesses start up to provide a passenger bus service, although the buses are nowhere near as big as they were before.

Smaller buses represented a common sense measure. We saw what a money pit those big buses were when they rolled down Saskatchewan highways with just a handful of passengers aboard.

But the passenger bus services that have started up in the last 18 months have largely been focused on the major national highways: 1, 11 and to a lesser extent, 16.

The mistake the Saskatchewan government made last year wasn’t axing the STC; it was wrapping up STC when there weren’t any options ready to step in to take STC’s place.

Now that Greyhound is finished in the west, it gives us a hint as to why nobody has stepped in to take STC’s place.

Maybe you can’t make money as a bus company in Western Canada in 2018. Certainly you can’t do it with the a business model that involves large buses driving long routes.

Some have suggested that provincial governments should step in with bus services now that Greyhound is leaving the west. That would also be a mistake. While the objective of a Crown corporation is to provide a service, it still needs to operate as a business, and not as a charity.

Our taxpayer dollars are too valuable to be used for a money pit. And that’s exactly what a rejuvenated STC would be.

There would also be a major expense associated with purchasing vehicles (regardless of whether they’re full-sized buses or the small 15-passenger vans) and securing sites to serve as bus depots.

STC was a diminishing return, just like Greyhound was a diminishing return. The number of people riding STC buses was dropping, for whatever reason. Its losses were only going to grow.

Did we need it? Yes. But that’s because there weren’t any other viable options.

The government that wants to start up a bus service in 2018 should be recalled.

Among the four Western Canadian provinces, we’re arguably the one that needs a passenger bus service the most. While Saskatchewan no longer has communities every 13 kilometres on virtually every highway (give or take a couple of kilometres), it’s still a province with a spread out population, with hundreds of little towns and villages that dot the landscape, on rural highways that crisscross the province.

Also, many services are only available in the two major cities.

Estevan residents won’t feel the loss created by Greyhound’s final days in Western Canada. But other communities will.

And those communities are going to feel the pinch of life after Greyhound, just like we felt the effects of life after STC.

Sadly, there isn’t any relief in sight for those looking for the service provided by a bus.   

 

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