Greyhound signifies changing world

We can all agree that the end of Greyhound bus service on the prairies is a tragic loss.

We should agree that this was a business decision unfortunately based on changing times and changing economies.

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But what seems wrong is the thinking that this somehow proves the Saskatchewan Party government was wrong last year to shutter the Saskatchewan Transportation Company (STC.)

If anything, it more likely demonstrates that the then-premier Brad Wall government decision in its austerity-minded 2017-18 budget was likely right.

Now, don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean losing bus service is happy news.

There can be no doubt the loss of STC has hurt farmers needing parts quickly and rural students and seniors who might not have access to a vehicle or the ability to drive.

The closure of STC clearly hurt those who can least afford other options. One can expect Greyhound’s western closures will also hit the poorest the hardest.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) is right that the Greyhound demise (especially on the heels of last year’s loss of STC services) will disproportionally hurt its communities.

But the notion from the Sask. Party government that the private sector would come in and take over its non-profitable routes was nonsensical from the beginning.

As questionable as some of the decisions made by those running STC sometimes were, the publicly owned bus company had long been providing a service no private company wanted to provide.

Why? Well, notwithstanding strategic attempts by Saskatchewan government of all political stripes to cut routes, emphasize parcel delivery and provide more luxury services like Wi-Fi, nothing seemed to work.

Ridership declined while costs went up and STC did not make a profit in its last 40 years of operation.

Why, then, would anyone other than government absorb massive annual losses by trying to fulfill the impossible task of delivering passenger service to sparse, smaller rural communities?

In fact, the only profitable route (out of more than 25 routes) for STC for the last couple years was the Regina-Saskatoon-Prince Albert run.

This takes us back to last week’s news that Greyhound was shuttering its services in every western province except British Columbia.

The company said it based its decision on the fact that ridership has declined 41 per cent since 2010.

This is a stunning number, considering that Greyhound was the only public transportation option to the airlines when it came to moving people between major centres along the Trans-Canada Highway like Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary or up through the Yellowhead Highway from Winnipeg to Saskatoon to Edmonton.

But with gas and diesel creeping back up to $1.30 a litre, it’s easy to see why Greyhound made this business decision.

So the notion that we are hearing on social media, largely from those with ties to the NDP, that there would have been some economic windfall awaiting STC had it survived long enough to outlast Greyhound is about as nonsensical as it gets.

A few years back, the Manitoba government even tried to subsidize Greyhound’s route north to rural and northern communities. Those routes were the first to go.

Yes, this has created economic and social hardships for bus users, (although whether the loss of STC will truly create dire risk for First Nations women as was contended at the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women hearings seems difficult to substantiate.)

After all, it could be argued that the former NDP government also put rural and northern women in peril a quarter century ago when it was closed rural hospitals.

Unfortunately, this was also one of those necessary austerity measures that governments are sometimes forced to make.

And now the Greyhound decision only underscores that last year’s decisions to shut down STC was one of those unfortunate, unpopular and inevitable decisions.