Thursday, 11 April 2013 09:33

NDP raises concerns in Saskatchewan Legislature over proposed STC route cuts

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Opposition Whip Doyle Vermette accused the Saskatchewan Party government of taking rural residents for granted and not listening to their concerns over proposed cuts to Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) bus routes.

 

Vermette was raising the Saskatchewan NDP’s concerns over these bus service cutbacks during question period in the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly on April 9.

“Mr. Speaker, more and more people are discovering that the Sask. Party takes rural and northern residents for granted,” he said. “The Sask. Party shuts down transportation services that rural people rely on for travel, for healthcare and for business growth.”

Minister responsible for STC Don McMorris announced the elimination of three bus routes, which must still be approved by the Highway Traffic Board, on Feb. 15.

A review identified the Blaine Lake to North Battleford, Regina to Lanigan (via Nokomis and Watrous) and Eastend to Swift Current and Mossbank routes as financially unsustainable due to low ridership.

Vermette questioned the government’s reasons for wanting to shut down STC routes to rural communities that rely on these passenger and courier services.

McMorris responded by emphasizing the need for STC to find efficiencies in its operational activities.

“STC board had identified three routes that we’re seeing a usage rate of roughly about one to two passengers per trip,” he said. “It would only be responsible for STC board as well as the government to look at such routes and see whether elimination would help the bottom line.”

The closure of the three routes will result in an annual saving of around $300,000. He added that the government subsidy for STC has increased over the past 10 years from around $1 million to a total of $11.5 million in the 2013/14 budget, but he cautioned that this subsidy is not a bottomless pit.

“Mr. Speaker, we certainly realize that by discontinuing these three routes there may be some impact on residents in those areas,” McMorris said. “We believe the private sector will pick up the void left by the STC courier service and be able to deliver whatever parcels to or from those communities that are needed to be transported.”

Vermette mentioned that the Town Council of Gravelbourg has written to the Highway Traffic Board to object to the proposed discontinuation of the bus route from Eastend to Swift Current and Mossbank.

The Opposition Whip also referred to another submission to the Highway Traffic Board by the Climax branch of the national charity organization Victoria’s Quilts Canada, which is relying on the STC parcel service for affordable shipping of quilts to cancer patients.

“Does the government have any other surprise to rural Saskatchewan,” he asked. “How many other routes will be cut?”

McMorris responded by referring to the NDP’s past record in government, when it also closed down bus and other services in rural areas.

“Mr. Speaker, we’ll take no lessons from the members opposite when it comes to rural Saskatchewan and the respect for rural Saskatchewan that those members had none of,” he said to loud applause from the Saskatchewan Party government benches.

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Matthew Liebenberg

Reporter/Photographer

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