'Without STC, I am in prison': People with disabilities press for return of Sask. bus company

The loss of Saskatchewan Transportation Company has made Jamie Ellis feel trapped. Ellis and a group of people with disabilities were at legislature on Wednesday to press for the return of the provincial bus company.

Province says new private services should fill gap left by Saskatchewan Transportation Company

Jamie Ellis was among a group of people with disabilities who attended the Saskatchewan legislature Wednesday. Ellis and others spoke about the impact of the closure of the Saskatchewan Transportation Company, and how it has affected their freedom and ability to travel. (CBC)

For Jamie Ellis, the loss of Saskatchewan Transportation Company has been a major blow. Ellis and a group of people with disabilities attended the legislature on Wednesday to press for the return of the provincial bus company.

Ellis, a Regina man who in a wheelchair, said he used STC to travel to Moose Jaw and Saskatoon regularly, but now can only go when Community Living provides him transport.

"My freedom has been taken away," he said.

He pleaded with Saskatchewan's government to return the system, noting the government said its goal is to make the province the best place to live in Canada.

"Without STC, that goal will never be reached," he said. "Without STC, I am in prison."

While the government has suggested private ride services may fill the gap, Ellis noted these providers may not offer wheelchair-accessible services.

The government had shut down the bus company last year. The province said it was subsidizing rides and that the service was costing as much as $17 million a year.

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company offered its last rides in May of 2017. (CBC)

But on Wednesday, some pressed the question of just how much the closure of the bus company saved; Ellis noted he had to take a medical trip to Saskatoon last July, which cost $350 through a taxi service and for which he was reimbursed through social services.

NDP leader Ryan Meili pointed to other challenges, saying that other businesses and producers are struggling with the impact to their work, as a result of the loss of STC.

"I really think we should have a proper audit just what the economic impact of having that service was," he said.

Meili maintained that a new bus service should replace STC, built to meet the changing and emerging needs of the province.

'Optimistic' for options, says minister

Joe Hargrave, the minister previously responsible for STC, declined to commit to an economic analysis, saying that it was apparent that STC had been operating at a loss for some time.   

"I have empathy for anybody who struggles to get transportation somewhere and they are depending on family," he noted.

But Hargrave said he believed that private enterprise, such as Lyft and Uber, would step in to fill the gap caused by the closure of STC.

"We're optimistic that these things will work out, and people will find themselves rides throughout the province."