The Saskatchewan Transportation Company is planning to cut their only bus route service connecting the Southwest effective May 18.
This past Friday the provincial government announced they were supporting a cost-cutting move by STC which will result in the elimination of the Eastend to Swift Current and Eastend to Mossbank bus routes. While counted as a single route, the service operates on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Eastend through Shaunavon and into Swift Current, while on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays it makes the Highway #13 run from Eastend to Mossbank and back.
Minister responsible for STC Don McMorris said the cost saving move would save $100,000 on this route alone. STC has also announced they will be discontinuing the Blaine Lake to North Battleford route, and service between Regina and Lanigan.
"I definitely think there will be some concern, and we don't make these decisions very easily," McMorris said during a phone interview this past Friday. "These are not easy decisions to make, but when we looked at the ridership it was so low that decisions have to be made otherwise the subsidy continues to climb. By eliminating these three routes STC will save $300,000 at least."
McMorris pointed out all three routes scheduled to be cancelled recorded an average of two passengers or less per trip during the last five years.
"They were identified as routes that were certainly lowly utilized. As well as, on the courier side, there are private companies that service these communities."
The cost-cutting effort by STC came in response to increasingly higher operating subsidies paid to the Crown Corporation.
"What we've done is challenged STC to look at cutting their costs a little bit. We've seen the operating subsidy for STC go from $1.6 million up to $10 million this year. So that's quite an increase over 10 years," he said.
While STC also provides STC Parcel Express service along Highway #13, those courier delivery totals are not enough to offset the low ridership totals.
"There are private (courier) companies that service that line, that will service that line into the future. Right now what we're seeing with STC is about a third of their revenue is generated through courier service, a third through passenger service, and then about a third, and it's not exact dollars, but close to a third is through the subsidy."
"We feel that the courier service can be picked up through the private sector," he added.
"And if the private sector is interested in picking up that route, certainly STC would not stand in the way. Whoever is interested make an application through the Highway Traffic Board and could pick up that service."
The Feb. 15 announcement began a 90-day approval process through the Highway Traffic Board, where impacted communities and customers can comment on the proposal.
"People will certainly have an opportunity to have their input to the Highway Traffic Board," he commented.
"It definitely will have an impact on those communities, although as far as service, again we didn't see much utilization of the bus itself. When you have an average of two riders per trip over the last five years, it was not a service that was highly utilized."