Since Greyhound announced it was closing operations in Western Canada effective the end of October, several small companies jumped in to say they’d take over routes. This is similar to what happened in Saskatchewan when the government shuttered the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC). Encouraged by the SaskParty government’s rhetoric about the capacity of the market to provide necessary services once the publically-subsidized Crown Corporation was out of the way, ten companies vied for the former STC routes. One year later, only two of those companies remain and most of the routes have no common carrier passenger service.
This now risks being the fate of other places in Western Canada. We know that the private sector will only ‘step up’ when there’s ready money to be made. That means ‘cherry-picking’ the few profitable routes. In Saskatchewan, many people have been left unable to leave their home communities. In many cases, these are the people who are least able to find transportation elsewhere: seniors, students, the economically disadvantaged and the physically disabled. Yet Canada considers access to safe, dignified transportation a human right, and one that affects people’s ability to participate fully in the societies in which they live. Being so important to people’s lives, the necessity for widespread public transportation should be taken much more seriously. As a public safety, personal autonomy, and accessibility issue, it should be delivered, managed, and subsidized (when necessary) by the public sector.
As Save STC, a group that formed in Saskatchewan after Wall’s austerity budget, likes to remind the public, “In cases like Saskatchewan where roughly one in three persons is rural, the subsidy to STC according to its own business plan was only 49 percent of its expenses (considerably less than the 72% provided to the City of Regina or 64 % to the City of Saskatoon).” In its last year of operation, the province-wide bus service cost only $10 per Saskatchewan citizen. For rural and remote residents, STC was the equivalent of urban transit in that it allowed people to access health care and social services, visit family and friends, escape domestic violence, and pursue education and livelihoods. The federal government already provides subsidies for urban public transportation systems. Why should people living in rural and remote locations of this country be exempt from the same?
Saskatchewan provided a model for Canada with STC. It was safe, affordable, and accessible. Passengers with disabilities could travel throughout the province. Workers were unionized. People in need were provided with medical passes for $69 per month. Environmental track records were kept through safety audits. Service, performance, and efficiency were measured through a “Balanced Scorecard,” in addition to more regular indicators. Sure, some changes were required, but if the federal, provincial and municipal governments of Canada want to truly develop a model to replace Greyhound maybe it’s time for a national, subsidized transportation system that unites the country. Perhaps a version of that model actually existed in STC.
For more information contact Save STC (a committee of Stop the Cuts SK). 306-381-8631 or (306) 652-6309.