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We need to close transportation gap

It's not a gap, it a hole. An opinion piece on the public transit system in Saskatchewan.
Rural transportation, transit
Commuter bus on a country road

I was 23 when I came to Canada, and I had no driver's licence.  

Not because I lost it, but because I never had it. I knew how to drive, as I went through a school before, but since I never had neither need, nor wish for it, I'd never obtained one. And boy, did I regret it during my first years in Canada.  

A driver's licence is literally translated into the Russian language as driver's rights. Well, I definitely felt rightless here. The bike was a saviour in the summer, but even though I love sports and challenges, biking in winter in Manitoba or Saskatchewan? No, thank you.  

The months that I've spent in Winnipeg studying and also waiting for my learner’s licence to mature were not so bad, as there's somewhat decent public transportation and also sidewalks that were ridable even in winter. But everything else was bad. 

Once I decided to come to Estevan for a reading week. Five hundred kilometres, I thought, wouldn't be too bad by bus, I've done way more. It was 2014, the time when not only Western Canada Greyhound, but even STC, were still here. Try guessing how long it took me to cover this 500 K? Fourteen hours! And that's from the bus depot to the bus depot.  

It was uncomfortable, to say the least, and if I remember right, it still cost me $150 one way. I did catch a ride to Regina and took a plane back, which was a bit less time and almost double the price. It was bad, and thus the only attempt at doing a Winnipeg-Estevan-Winnipeg trip without a personal vehicle.  

Nevertheless, while in many situations I felt that I was strongly dependent on others, as I realized later, back then things weren't as bad for me as they are for some people now. Knowing that if I really need to, I had an option, made it more bearable for me.  

Once I got my licence, my life got filled with colours. But on a bigger scale, the systematic problem that was already in place in 2014, got much worse with both STC and then Greyhound leaving the market with no real replacement filling the gap.  

Now with no intercommunity transportation system in Saskatchewan, not just the quality of life, but sometimes the entire lifestyle and even life itself, depend on a person's ability to drive. And while sometimes poor choices affect it, many other times it's not a matter of a choice.  

For thousands of people in Saskatchewan, the opportunity to make it to the hospital, or to be able to buy things a bit cheaper or just buy things, might be crucial. And yet, we don't have anything to offer. According to CanAge, Canada's National Seniors' Advocacy Organization, half of the Canadian seniors report not having access to transportation that meets their needs.  

And even more so in Saskatchewan. Ever since the last local transportation service tears dried up, vulnerable people in the province have been left stranded.  

I get it. Out of the 25 STC routes the only one that was profitable was Regina-Saskatoon. And I assume Greyhound left not for the fun of it either. Nevertheless, what we've had, or more correctly, didn't have since 2017-18, is not an option either.  

Almost 197,000 residents of Saskatchewan are people over 65, which makes up 17 per cent of the total population, CanAge states. Data shows that older adults who lack access to reliable transportation services suffer from worse mental health, lower quality of life and are less likely to be able to receive health care of any kind, and even more so promptly. These risks are exacerbated for those living with disabilities, and those on lower incomes. (The pandemic has been making it only worse over the past two years).  

Every so often there are talks about the gap, but not much action happens when there is no money to make. And while it's a difficult thing to digest in the world of capitalism, just like creating an inviting space brings in a crowd and thus profits for those involved, a properly developed and smart system in place makes more people choose a particular destination as their home, resulting in development and prosperity.  

The system that was in place for years wasn't working (maybe in part because of its quality and appearance described above), but it doesn't mean that another one won't work. And even if it needs to be subsidized, it still may pay out, just in another way. 

I'm not a strategic development specialist, and I don't have an understanding of how to make transportation work in Saskatchewan. I don't think many people, if any at all, do. But this conversation needs to happen sooner rather than later.  

And to start it, CanAge is calling on communities across the province to submit a "community profile" online, which will capture important information about their local area, what seniors' transportation services are in place, and what challenges they're facing in moving older residents safely to then hopefully get it going.  

So if you have a need or an idea, spend some time and chip in.