The Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC) officially ceased operations last June. Nearly a year since then, some people living with disabilities feel they have become trapped in their communities.
Jamie Ellis lives in Regina, and relies on a power chair to get around. He said he used to frequently take the bus to go to Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, but that option no longer exists.
“Now I can only go when community living will provide transport. My freedom has been taken away,” Ellis said.
Ellis was one of several people with disabilities in attendance at question period on May 9, when the Opposition NDP called on the government to restore STC.
“It used to be if I wanted to go to Saskatoon I’d go,” Ellis said. “Now I have to wait for something happening where all the finances are covered and everything.”
This was the case for Ellis’ medical appointment last July.
Tina Millar was among those who joined Ellis at the legislative building. She also used to take STC to visit her mother in Saskatoon. Now she relies on her husband to drive her to Davidson, where her mom picks her up and finishes the trip.
“It’s just unreal. Without STC I feel so lost,” she said.
The province first announced STC would be wound down in the 2017-18 provincial budget. The bus service stopped operations June 1, 2017.
Since then 24 charter bus services have picked up routes on a for hire basis. Some charter bus lines, like Engelheim Charter, do have accessible buses for hire.
There are three companies providing regular scheduled routes in some areas; Rider Express, Dical Transport and Greyhound.
Crown Investments Corporation Minister Joe Hargrave, who was STC minister when it was wound down, said legislation is expected to pass soon allowing for further ride sharing operations. This would allow companies like Uber and Lyft to begin operating in Saskatchewan.
Hargrave said these services may be able to provide further transportation options for those living with disabilities.
Hargrave said he can sympathise with those facing mobility challenges, but he doesn’t feel it is the government’s place to intervene in the operations of private business.
“I don’t think it’s the government’s job to try and recruit individuals, private enterprise to start that business. That’s a decision they have to make,” Hargrave said.
“They have to look at it and see it as an opportunity and have a plan to make some money for themselves and provide the service to some people.”
Accessibility coming to some routes.
At the moment, neither Rider Express nor Dical Transportation have wheelchair accessible vans in their fleets.
However, Rider Express said it is in the process of finalizing a deal to bring wheelchair accessible vehicles to their fleet.
The goal is to have these new vans on the road within a month, operating on the Regina, Saskatoon and Prince Albert routes. Preliminary plans are to run the accessible vans at least three days per week.
Dical Transport, which has scheduled rides between Yorkton and Regina, is open to introducing accessible vans.
The company said it hasn’t seen the demand yet to necessitate the purchase of these vehicles, but if the demand is out there they will look into expanding their options.
Greyhound does provide accessible transport for customers out of their Regina International Airport location for their route along the Trans-Canada Highway. This option also exists on their Yellowhead Highway round trip in Saskatoon between Edmonton and Winnipeg.