The wheels on the bus go round and round… but not for much longer.
One of the biggest hits to come out of the 2017 provincial budget is the impending cancellation of the STC bus service. Considering the pressure the government is under to get its finances in check and bring things “back to balance”, it seems logical to cut programs and services that – while beneficial – perhaps don’t see the return on investment they once did. However, in this case the government should forget logic and do what feels right.
According to Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison, STC ridership has been on the decline for some time, while the government is required to pay about $100 in subsidies each time someone purchases a bus ticket. He went on to say, in the last five years, the government has subsidized the STC service by nearly $100 million.
This may be true, but if so, then it’s been money well spent. If the province really wants to save money, it should delve further into another aspect of the budget – the one that currently calls for a 3.5 per cent wage rollback for ministers and MLAs. Up that to an even five, 10 or even 50 per cent and, dollars to donuts, the balance they’re seeking will surely appear in a much more miraculous fashion.
Ridership may be down, but the STC service has become a staple. Not only do residents use it to travel from one community to another for both personal and professional reasons, numerous riders depend on the bus to attend medical appointments, while others use it as a courier service to ship and receive packages and parts from all over the province. Of course other options exist for the latter, but old habits die hard.
Where the loss of STC service is likely to be felt most is in the North. The bus was only introduced in communities such as Beauval, Buffalo Narrows, Ile-a-la Crosse and La Loche less than a decade ago. According to reports published at the time, the large and growing population in the North was the main contributing factor to establishing the new service. Then minister of Crown corporations Ken Cheveldayoff even went as far as to say the expansion showed the province’s commitment to building a stronger Saskatchewan and a better life for Saskatchewan’s northern citizens.
How much of a better life will they have now? To cut off a portion of the population, especially those already living in a somewhat remote location, to save a few measly bucks isn’t the best strategy if the goal remains to strengthen Saskatchewan.
The STC service served to connect the province. Now, however, the government has created weak link in the chain. And, when there’s a weak link, that chain will eventually break.