Bus route hearings underway as STC signs come down

Hearings begin Tuesday for companies vying for the opportunity to take over routes formerly operated by the Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

Injunction filed in May but later dismissed after judge said province had authority to cut STC

A worker removes a sign from the STC depot in Regina on June 6, 2017. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

People hoping to take over transportation routes formerly operated by the Saskatchewan Transportation Company met opposition at a hearing in Regina on Tuesday.

The Crown corporation was shuttered May 31 after the decision was made to cut costs in March's provincial budget. The government said continued use of the company would cost $85 million over the next five years. 

Over the next two weeks, the Highway Traffic Board is holding hearings to listen to opposition to applications for Operating Authority Certificates to transport passengers across the province.

Once the board approves the applications, businesses can start transporting passengers.

Multiple applications

There were several applications in the wake of STC shutting down.​

On Tuesday, Cindy Hanson spoke in opposition of an application made by a Regina man to take a 15-passenger van between Regina and Saskatoon.

The man was not present at the hearing.

Hanson, who is also a member of the Stop the Cuts group, used STC to get from her home in Saskatoon to work at the University of Regina.

"In Wall's rush to privatize or wind down STC, they forgot that there were probably going to be people applying," said Hanson. 

"It was going to take some time. There was going to be opposition to those applications, with concerns about safety, and as a result, Saskatchewan people have been left out in the cold."

She told the tribunal her concerns with the applications rested on safety.

"I know the culture of safety that STC had. I'm concerned that the government has not prepared the Highway Traffic Board or the companies applying with the proper kind of necessary screening, compliance, to ensure the highway traffic board can live up to its mission."

Companies wanting to take over STC routes are being opposed at public hearings in Regina and Saskatoon over the next two weeks. (CBC)

STC's closure has received staunch opposition from union employees, rural residents and frequent riders who relied on the service to get around the province. 

Carpe Diem limousine service had made an application to take over some routes but pulled out after opposition from the Amalgamated Transit Union.

Melville company hopeful

Melville, Sask.-based DiCal Transport currently offers moving, delivery and courier services. It wants to transport passengers from Yorkton, Sask., to Regina. It had hoped to be up and running by June 1 but had to wait because of the hearings.

"I think more than anything I wanted those that questioned or opposed us to understand that we're a solid company. We've been in business for seven years and we're more than capable of transporting passengers safely," said Diane Smith, who owns DiCal with her husband.

Smith said her drivers have done de-escalation training to deal with agitated passengers as well as standard CPR and first-aid training.

Smith said she's confident her company's application will satisfy the highway traffic board's expectations.

Regina lawyer wants public inquiry

Larry Kowalchuk, though, objected to the applications. He said the public doesn't have all of the answers it needs on why STC was shut down in the first place. 

"A public inquiry would allow people to spend enough time and provide enough evidence and deal with all of the issue, rather than a short 15 minutes," Kowalchuk said.

He said the applications are light on details and that is a concern.

"We don't know what rates, traffic and safety compliance is happening," he said.

"We don't know what these applicants are going to do in relation to seniors, cancer patients, students, women, youth, people who have disabilities. All of those were taken care of by law under our public transportation system."

An injunction against the closure of STC was filed in May but was later dismissed. The judge ruled the province had full authority to close down the Crown corporation, contrary to what was argued by those opposed to its scrapping.

With files from CBC's Adam Hunter