'The closure of STC was kind of a catastrophe to me': Former bus riders still seeking transportation options

Some residents in the province say they're still struggling to find an adequate replacement for the Saskatchewan Transportation Company's services.

Province says it shut down Crown corporation because of declining ridership, high costs

Jacqueline Lim says it's important people in the North can have access to bigger centres. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

More than half a year has passed since the wheels on the province's bus company stopped turning round. 

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company stopped carrying passengers in May and the majority of its assets have since been sold. 

Some residents who relied on the service say they are struggling to find an adequate replacement and that private companies are not filling the gap. 

The government said the Crown corporation was scrapped because of declining ridership and high costs — about $17 million a year. 

In 2016-2017, ridership declined 2.4 per cent and passenger revenue was down $2.5 million. 

Leaving La Ronge

"You can get very isolated up in La Ronge, professionally as well as personally," said speech language pathologist Jacqueline Lim. Lim is originally from Australia, but has lived in La Ronge since 2011.

Now she's considering leaving the town because she hasn't found a reliable transportation replacement. 

"My older son is finishing high school next June and, after that, I'm thinking well we might have to move — because I can't be in a community that I can't get out of."

Lim relied on STC to get to work conferences and networking events, as well as to social engagements and medical appointments. Now she remains unsure if, and how, she will travel. 

To me, it's mind boggling and I think the government should be ashamed.- La Ronge resident Jacqueline Lim on the closure of STC  

"An inconvenience doesn't even cover it. You know, it's just unconscionable, really, that a provincial government can leave people without any transportation."

Lim has booked an appointment with a dental surgeon in Saskatoon in January. Her husband has to take two days off from work and she has to pull her youngest son out of school because he can't stay home alone.

Before the STC shut down, she would have taken the bus. 

'Flabbergasted' by loss of public transport

Lim is apprehensive about driving on Saskatchewan roads, even more so after she had a few scares in the wintertime driving to Creighton for work. 

"Since then, I've developed some panic attacks around driving on the highways here," she said.

She said she's "flabbergasted" there's no longer provincial public transport.

"To me it's mind boggling, and I think the government should be ashamed," she said.

Joe Hargrave, the minister responsible for STC, had previously suggested former riders ask friends or family for rides.

"We don't always have four generations of family that can drop everything at the drop of a hat and come pick us up," Lim said.

Government confident in private sector 

"When we made the decision to wind up STC, we were confident that the private sector would recognize opportunities to provide services where demand warranted," a government spokesperson said in an emailed statement to CBC. 

"We have seen over recent months that the private sector is looking for those opportunities and recognizing demand."

The spokesperson said the government expects to see fluctuations as businesses hash out an operating model that works for them. 

"We expect there will continue to be variability as these new services enter the sector in Saskatchewan." 

The spokesperson said the decision to shut down STC was difficult, but the government did not believe the subsidy it required was sustainable. 

Only two of STC's 27 routes were profitable and STC ridership had dropped by 77 per cent since its peak in 1980, according to a government news release issued earlier this year. 

Jacqueline Lim says she's likely not affected by the STC loss as much as others. 'But if I’m being affected in that way, can you think of all the other people that are?' she said. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

Saskatoon senior says loss is 'a tragedy'

​"All of my children live out of province. Two of them live in Calgary, so I would often take the STC bus to get to Calgary and back — especially as I got older," said Ruth Millar, a senior who lives in Saskatoon.

"I used to drive when the weather was alright, but I just don't feel safe on the highway in the wintertime."

When STC stopped running, Millar tried other options.

"I flew, but that's too expensive," she said. "I want to see my family at least four times a year, if not five. The closure of STC was kind of a catastrophe to me." 

Since then, she's found a private route that goes between Saskatoon and Calgary, but it's not a comfortable fit for Millar because of the absence of aisles and space.

She said the absence of a washroom is particularly concerning for elderly women.  

Prof mulls leaving job post-STC 

"Just because they cancelled the bus doesn't mean that there aren't those of us out there who still need it.," said JoAnn Jaffe, a professor of sociology and social studies at the University of Regina. 

Jaffe lives in Saskatoon with her family and has commuted for about 25 years. For the majority of those, she's taken STC because of safety perceptions and convenience.

"I'm frankly a little bit freaked out about driving in really bad weather, particularly by myself," she said.
University of Regina professor JoAnn Jaffe said the three hours on the bus gave her time to do her prep work as she commuted between Saskatoon and Regina. (CBC)

Jaffe worries about the unpredictability of the weather, slippery roads and questionable visibility. It also makes her uneasy to drive alone in the dark.

So far, she hasn't found something to replace STC. She said the schedule of private companies doesn't work with hers and she doesn't find them reliable. Jaffe has considered flights, but said that's too costly. A group of her colleagues have considered carpooling, but they have different schedules.

"At some point, I may even end up considering abandoning — quitting this job as a result of losing the service."