An organization pushing to resurrect the Saskatchewan Transportation Company says the province isn’t considering all of its funding options.
Stop The Cuts told reporters at a news conference Wednesday federal funding available for transit projects could save the STC, which ended service May 31.
The group said Saskatchewan could receive between $320-640 million through the $20.1-billion public transit infrastructure fund (PTIF) over 11 years, noting only some of the money would be needed to operate the provincial bus company.
“You could argue that the STC is transportation infrastructure for rural Saskatchewan,” said Stop The Cuts member Peter Garden. “We believe that a deal could be negotiated.”
The provincial government has indicated it would take $85 million in funding to operate STC for another five years.
Garden said STC’s efficiency could be improved to streamline costs, making federal funds go farther.
He noted smaller buses could be used, and routes could be combined to reduce expenditures.
A page explaining the PTIF on Infrastructure Canada’s website details eligibility for funds as projects “for the rehabilitation, optimization and modernization of public transit infrastructure, or that improve the efficiency, accessibility and/or safety of public transit infrastructure.”
It also includes funds for the design and planning of expansion and improvements of transit systems, including walking trails and bike paths.
However, it specifies the goal of the fund is to “accelerate municipal investments” and excludes operating costs as an eligible expenditure.
But Stop The Cuts is arguing the province could create a unique deal with the federal government to make STC eligible.
“Any of these federal-provincial programs are negotiated,” Robert Clipperton said.
“Saskatchewan is not like some of the highly-urbanized provinces, and I don’t know why you wouldn’t at least seek out that option.”
The group said federal NDP MP Erin Weir brought the funding to Premier Wall’s attention after the announcement to shut down STC was made, and offered to work with the province to help get it.
“Wall responded on May 11 that he would eliminate STC even if federal funding were available to continue its operation,” a statement from Stop The Cuts quotes Weir as saying.
Stop The Cuts protested the last night of STC service last week, which involved several members refusing to get off the last Regina-Saskatoon bus for five hours.
They contend the end of the 73-year-old service puts rural and Indigenous people at a disadvantage, taking away their mode of provincial transportation.
Members of the group are also using public hearings at the Highway Traffic Board to challenge the ability of private companies to take over routes previously serviced by STC, causing some firms to back away from providing service.
Stop The Cuts is encouraging Sask. residents to contact their MLAs, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Transportation Minister Marc Garneau to encourage them to negotiate a new PTIF deal.
—With files from 650 CKOM’s JT Marshall.
*Correction: This story has been changed to reflect that members of Stop the Cuts are challenging applications from private companies wanting to take over STC routes in hearings at the Highway Traffic Board, not in court as was indicated in a previous draft.