One last trip: STC passengers say hitchhiking, bumming rides only options now

The government will shutter the Saskatchewan Transportation Company's doors today. A year from now the Crown corporation's buses will be sold; the depot in Saskatoon for sale.

'It's going to hurt a lot of people': Bus riders mourn loss of Saskatchewan Transportation Company

The Saskatchewan Transportation Company offered its last rides in May of 2017, once the Saskatchewan government decided to close it down. (CBC)

It's eerily quiet inside the bus.

It's as if the passengers are heading to a funeral. As if they know that very soon, there will be no more buses like this. 

Soon there will be no more Prince Albert run, no more smoke breaks at the Rosthern gas station, no more stops in Hague or Osler along the way. 

There will be no more Saskatchewan Transportation Company.

The government will shutter the Crown corporation's doors today. A year from now the buses will be sold; the depot in Saskatoon put up for sale.

"I'll have to hitchhike if I can't find a ride. [The bus] is the only way I travel," said rider Becky McKenzie. 

The bus is rolling now, heading out of town on one its last trips. 

McKenzie is heading back to La Ronge, Sask., after visiting her adult daughter. 

McKenzie's daughter was born with a heart defect, she says, and has lived in an assisted living facility in Prince Albert for years.

It's a trip she takes every month. 

Becky McKenzie uses the STC to visit her daughter in a Prince Albert assisted living facility.

She keeps the receipts and used tickets from the bus trips in an envelope, she says. 

This time she decided to go further south to Saskatoon. Now she is heading back to La Ronge. 

"I come in every month to see her from La Ronge on the STC. I've got a lot of tickets … over three envelopes full of them from these buses. I've been very thankful, the way they've been running," she said. 

The announcement of STC's closure in this past spring's provincial budget came as a shock to many in the province. 

The bus service started in 1946 and after two decades of steady growth, ridership began to decline steeply. 

Only two of STC's 27 routes are profitable and ridership has dropped by 77 per cent since its peak in 1980. 

But for the loyal users like Ken Nateweyes, the closure will hurt.

Officials say the STC shutdown will save roughly $17 million per year. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Nateweyes lives in Prince Albert but often travels to Saskatoon, about 140 kilometres away. While the price of a ticket — now just over $30 — has risen, he uses the bus service often. 

The only alternative, he says, is hitchhiking. 

"It's going to be hard for a lot of people to go back and forth now. Hitchhiking will be a second option now," Nateweyes said.

Officials estimate the STC closure will save roughly $17 million per year. When it announced the decision in March as part of a budget aimed at dealing with a multi-million dollar shortfall, the province cited declining ridership and revenues.

On the second-last day of operations, there were five total passengers on the Prince Albert route.

Most of them seemed upset with the decision.

"I could always rely on the STC bus," said Pierre Edward Denego, another passenger aboard the bus.

Like Nateweyes, Denego was going home to Prince Albert. 

He says the closure will put him and many other in a tough spot. He doesn't know, for example, how his girlfriend will get up to meet him once she returns to Saskatchewan from Red Deer, Alta.

McKenzie says Premier Brad Wall should rethink the decision. 

"Tell him that this is going to be hurting a lot of people in the north. This is the only way they come in to Saskatoon to have their surgeries. A lot of them come in to have the checkups," she said.

As for her, McKenzie says she'll have to rely on family members for rides — she never did get her driver's licence.