STC travels a long-subsidized road
STC WILL GET A $10.3-MILLION OPERATING GRANT THIS YEAR.
Some taxpayers will doubtless think they’re being taken for a very expensive ride when they learn that, since it came to power in late 2007, the Saskatchewan Party government has spent just over $86 million in subsidies to keep its money losing Crown bus company on the road.
Add $26 million for the downtown Regina bus terminal that opened in 2008 — a project started under the previous NDP government — and the total spent on the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) balloons to $112 million.
Some expected STC to be a target for privatization when the Sask. Party formed government, but while a few routes have been eliminated, service on others reduced and fares have steadily been increased, Premier Brad Wall’s administration has continued the policy of previous NDP and Progressive Conservative governments, supporting a service that has no realistic prospect of ever turning a profit.
This doubtless dismays those who subscribe to the belief that a business sinks or swims on its own merits. The Sask. Party usually adheres to that view, too. But as it has learned since 2007, STC is a special case.
Bus service is still incredibly important for thousands of rural residents. In 2013, STC clocked more than three million miles of travel as it transported roughly 280,000 passengers and small freight to 284 communities.
Though services between Regina and Saskatoon and other major centres are profitable, most services to small towns lose money. Indeed, a handful of routes axed in 2013 had carried only one or two passengers per trip for the previous four or five years. Dozens of STC routes still in operation scarcely fare much better, but they provide a lifeline to the communities they serve. And let’s be honest, no private operator would maintain these services.
Though there’s been an emphasis on expense control in recent years, STC has also invested in new vehicles, passenger comforts and special fare deals to make riding the bus more attractive.
Indeed, its $86 million in government subsidies since 2007 includes $15 million for capital improvements.
As she announced a 2015 operating grant of $10.3 million yesterday, STC Minister Jennifer Campeau said the company had purchased five used coaches with expanded leg room, Wi-Fi and other features. These vehicles will replace older coaches nearing the end of the road.
Sure, keeping STC’s wheels turning is expensive. However, it’s a justifiable cost of doing business in a geographically vast province like ours.