Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Voters want say in rapid transit

Majority of respondents would dump $590-million megaproject: poll

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City of Winnipeg Rapid Transit buses.


City of Winnipeg Rapid Transit buses. Photo Store

Most Winnipeggers want to vote on the expansion of rapid transit, and the majority of respondents say they would vote against it, a new poll shows.

Seventy-one per cent say they want to vote on whether the city should go ahead with the second phase of bus rapid transit from the Pembina Underpass at Jubilee Avenue to the University of Manitoba.

Forty-seven per cent would reject building the next phase of rapid transit while 42 per cent would vote in favour of it. Another 11 per cent said they aren't sure how they would vote or did not respond to the question.

Those are the findings of a Probe Research Inc. poll, commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press and conducted June 10 to 19, which asked two questions to 603 Winnipeg adults randomly sampled by phone: Whether they want Winnipeggers to have the chance to vote on whether city council should approve the second phase of rapid transit, and whether $590 million should be spent to complete the Southwest Transitway to the University of Manitoba. The poll is accurate within plus or minus four per cent, with 95 per cent certainty.

The poll was released one day before Mayor Sam Katz and city councillors decide whether a non-binding plebiscite will be added to the Oct. 22 civic-election ballot.

"The majority want a referendum so the majority can vote it down," is how Scott MacKay, Probe's president, summed up the poll Monday.

"Everybody supports a referendum. Rapid transit has been in the news for 30 years and I don't know of any other public-opinion measurement before this. I don't think anyone has ever looked at what the public thinks of this.

MacKay said support for a referendum holds true in all demographic sub-groups, including age, where they live, whether they rode a bus in the past month and which party they support.

MacKay said the second question had a different breakdown, with the poll finding 59 per cent of residents in northeast Winnipeg would vote to reject it compared with 36 per cent in southwest Winnipeg (where it would be built) who would reject it.

As well, 56 per cent of supporters of the Progressive Conservative party would scrap the project, compared with 37 per cent of NDP supporters.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi, a supporter of rapid transit, said if a referendum is held this fall, the next leg of rapid transit will be delayed by at least a year, the costs will go up, and the city's financial partners may pull out.

"I don't think people really realize the implications of a referendum," Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said. "If we wait to October, we could lose the federal funding because we would have to wait a year before applying and the costs would escalate $20 to $65 million by waiting one year."

Both Coun. Scott Fielding and Jeff Browaty, who have suggested taking another look at rapid transit, said the poll supports what they are hearing. "This is not super surprising," Fielding (St. James-Brookland) said. "When you have a monster megaproject, probably the biggest in the city's history, the average citizen wants a say in it."

"It's a large amount of money and I don't think the public understands what is proposed," Browaty (North Kildonan) said. "There's only one taxpayer and it's a lot of money... but if the public is in favour of it I will be 100 per cent behind it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 24, 2014 B1

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