Hard­ing calls ter­mi­nal a ‘crys­tal cathe­dral’

Regina Leader-Post - - Business & Agricultur­e - By BRUCE JOHN­STONE Leader-Post

While the Saskatchew­an Trans­porta­tion Com­pany’s new bus ter­mi­nal seems to be meet­ing with favour from the trav­el­ing pub­lic, at least one res­i­dent is un­happy with the $26-mil­lion fa­cil­ity on 1717 Saskatchew­an Dr.

Lee Hard­ing, Saskatchew­an di­rec­tor for the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion, says STC’s ter­mi­nal and head of­fice build­ing — which cost one-third more than the bud­get and opened more than a year be­hind sched­ule — is a “crys­tal cathe­dral for buses.’’

“Any­one who went to the old de­pot (at 2041 Hamil­ton St.) knew it left a lot to be de­sired. But to be re­placed with such an ex­trav­a­gant, spa­cious fa­cil­ity … it’s a waste of tax­payer dol­lars.’’

Hard­ing said, when first an­nounced in De­cem­ber 2005, the new ter­mi­nal was pro­jected to cost $19 mil­lion, with com­ple­tion set for mid-2007.

In­stead, the project cost was re­vised to $25.5 mil­lion when the constructi­on con­tract was awarded in Septem­ber 2006. The 34-per-cent in­crease was at­trib­uted to inflation in the ‘over­heated’ constructi­on in­dus­try.

The project was fi­nally com­pleted late last month at a cost of $26.2 mil­lion — $700,000 higher than the con­tract price, due to un­fore­seen foun­da­tion and util­ity work — and over a year late.

“The pri­vate sec­tor never would have built a build­ing so ex­trav­a­gant that has ab­so­lutely no bear­ing on the bot­tom line,’’ Hard­ing said, adding that the Regina ter­mi­nal han­dles only 35 per cent of STC’s passenger and freight traf­fic.

But he said the cost over­runs at the new ter­mi­nal are symp­to­matic of big­ger fi­nan­cial prob­lems at STC. Since 1999, STC has re­ceived $29 mil­lion in op­er­at­ing grants and $41 mil­lion in cap­i­tal grants from the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment.

The Crown cor­po­ra­tion’s an­nual op­er­at­ing losses have in­creased from $3 mil­lion in 2000 to $6.6 mil­lion last year. STC is ex­pected to re­ceive an $8-mil- lion op­er­at­ing grant from the prov­ince this year.

“This (new ter­mi­nal) is not go­ing to make much dif­fer­ence to the bot­tom line of STC and the re­al­ity is that the cor­po­ra­tion has taken $70 mil­lion in tax­payer dol­lars in the last 9 ⁄ years,’’ Hard­ing said.

“And there’s lit­tle rea­son to think (STC) is go­ing to make any kind of turn­around in the fu­ture,’’ he said, adding that rid­er­ship has de­clined al­most ev­ery year for the past 20 years.

“In re­al­ity, STC has just built them­selves a fancy new of­fice and nice place to have a cup of cof­fee. And, if (STC’s) track record is any in­di­ca­tion, there’ll be as many peo­ple com­ing here for cof­fee as there will (be) to use the bus.’’

But a spokes­woman for STC said the new ter­mi­nal fa­cil­ity was built to mod­ern ac­ces­si­bil­ity stan­dards, as well as en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and build­ing codes, which the old build­ing did not meet.

“With the new build­ing, we elim­i­nate over­crowd­ing for pas­sen­gers and staff,’’ said Tracy Fahlman, di­rec­tor of strate­gic plan­ning and com­mu­ni­ca­tions for STC. “In the old fa­cil­ity, we had peo­ple work­ing in the base­ment.’’

And the new ter­mi­nal will al­low for growth in the num­ber of pas­sen­gers us­ing the bus, Fahlman added. “This new build­ing will help us ac­com­mo­date what we’re hop­ing to achieve in the fu­ture, which is rid­er­ship growth.”

She added the old build­ing was “not con­ducive to do­ing busi­ness by to­day’s stan­dards.’’ The freight build­ing re­quired staff to con­tin­u­ally cross a road­way, while the un­cov­ered bus lanes were nei­ther safe nor se­cure for pas­sen­gers and staff.

As for STC los­ing money, Fahlman said many of the com­pany’s routes are un­eco­nomic. “Some of our routes are not prof­itable. We don’t have enough pas­sen­gers or freight.’’

STC’s man­date is to serve as a life­line that con­nects the prov­ince, she added.

“We’re here to de­liver ser­vice. We de­liver blood (for Cana­dian Blood Ser­vices) … A lot of peo­ple who don’t have (their own) trans­porta­tion take the bus to come to Regina or Saskatoon or York­ton to go to their doc­tor.’’

ROY ANTAL/Leader-Post

Lee Hard­ing, Saskatchew­an di­rec­tor of the Cana­dian Tax­pay­ers Fed­er­a­tion, be­lieves the STC ter­mi­nal will have “as many peo­ple com­ing here for cof­fee as there will (be) to use the bus.’’

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