Employees cried and passengers fumed at the Saskatchewan Transportation Company depot in Saskatoon Wednesday afternoon when they all learned of the government's decision to shutter the 70-year-old bus service.
The closure leaves 224 people out of work and hundreds of communities in limbo. Freight service will end May 19, and passenger service will stop May 31.
"I don't know what I'm going to do." - Cara Severson
"I can't believe this. I don't know what I'm going to do," said Norquay resident Cara Severson.
"I won't be traveling any more. It's going to be quite a nightmare."
Severson hopes the government reconsiders.
"You guys don't know what you're doing to small communities. Think about the little people."
One Nigerian immigrant doesn't know how she'll bring her daughter into Saskatoon for medical appointments. An elderly Saskatoon woman said she won't be able to travel anymore to the Manitou Springs Resort and Mineral Spa near Watrous. Another man lamented the loss of parcel service as he headed to pick up some car parts ordered from Prince Albert.
'My life is shutting down'
Tareq Sunny of Yorkton takes the bus every month on business. He was headed home from some work in Kindersley. He couldn't believe it.
"It's shutting down forever? My life is shutting down," Sunny said.
Inside the terminal, some workers answered questions from confused passengers. Others broke down in tears. Others hugged each other.
The decision is expected to save the heavily indebted provincial government roughly $17 million per year, according to budget estimates.
In a statement Wednesday, Crown Investments Minister Joe Hargrave said the decision "was not arrived at easily" and that "our government believes that those funds can be put to better use elsewhere in government."
Decreased bus ridership across Canada has made it harder to offer effective connections in Saskatchewan, according to a government news release. Only two of STC's 27 routes are profitable. STC ridership has dropped by 77 per cent since its peak in 1980.
STC closure will hurt seniors, rural residents
NDP critic Cathy Sproule said the loss of STC "is going to have a huge impact on seniors in rural areas and people who use that service for important medical appointments and deliveries.
"We have a minister who promised a year ago that they wouldn't be touching STC because of the valuable service it provides."
STC was created in 1946 as a Crown corporation and has operated continuously ever since.
Customers appear to value STC. In its latest annual report, satisfaction levels reached 93 per cent for riders and 95 per cent for parcel customers.
"By linking communities, people and businesses, STC serves the customer and the shareholder," then-STC Minister Jennifer Campeau wrote in the company's 2016 annual report.
"STC provides citizens with access to essential services in larger and rural communities. Entrepreneurs across the province have access to shipping services that can supply parts or distribute products, expanding markets beyond their local community."
Bus service affected Wednesday, Thursday
Although the Saskatchewan Transportation Company's passenger and parcel service will continue until May, many routes were cancelled Wednesday without explanation in the hours before the budget announcement. The online ticket-buying service was also taken down temporarily.
A media release says the suspension of service was to provide time for management to meet with STC staff.
All services are expected to come back online by Thursday afternoon.
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