Harding calls terminal a ‘crystal cathedral’
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.’’
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.’’