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Transit queries jam 311

If you’re having long wait times on the city’s information system, 311, blame transit riders.

Councillors were told Thursday the majority of calls to 311 are coming from people wanting to know the time of the next bus.

Transit director Dave Wardrop said the service has been developing a variety of social-media applications as a quick and user-friendly substitute to 311, but most riders continue to use 311 simply to know the transit schedule.

"The vast majority of (calls) are scheduling information, next-bus information," Wardrop said, adding Transit is trying to ease the 311 workload.

Couns. Russ Wyatt and Paula Havixbeck passed a motion instructing administration to develop options to improve 311 response times by finding other means to deal with transit queries.

 

Street-work costs jump

The city found an expensive surprise when looking for contractors to do regional and local street repairs this year.

The cost of the work has gone up an average of 7.2 per cent compared with the same work done in 2013.

The cost increases were presented in a verbal report to the civic finance committee.

City council went on a spending spree this year to deal with a billion-dollar infrastructure deficit — boosting its spending on regional and local streets to a combined $84.2 million, a 173 per cent increase from the $30.9 million spent in 2012.

As of the end of March, the city had issued contracts for $30 million worth of roadwork but staff said that money isn’t going as far.

Officials blamed the increase on the extra work being ordered by the city and the provincial government.

Lester Deane, manager of engineering, said Thursday the city finds itself competing against itself and the province, which is driving up costs three times the rate of inflation.

"We’re competing for (contractors) with the province," and ourselves, Deane said.

Committee members Russ Wyatt and Paula Havixbeck proposed the administration had to find ways to keep costs from escalating unnecessarily, suggesting officials work with industry to devise multi-year contracts and work with provincial staff to co-ordinate the timing on bids.

 

Woes with digital fares

Winnipeg Transit is struggling with the introduction of its $18-million digital fare system.

Transit director Dave Wardrop said the Smart Card system is still going through a testing phase and likely won’t be fully operational until 2015.

"This is a highly complex project," Wardrop told the finance committee Thursday. "We’re continuing to resolve technical issues on an ongoing basis," he said, adding the project is on budget, if not on time.

The digital swipe cards will replace traditional paper tickets and transfers and bus passes.

The system was supposed to have been put in place in the fall of 2013. That was pushed back to this spring and now that has been pushed back even farther.

Wardrop told the finance committee Handi-Transit users are being issued the swipe cards now but other users won’t be able to buy the cards until 2015.

 

Councillors’ spending OK

City councillors have received a stamp of approval for their spending in 2013.

A report from city auditor Brian Whiteside states a review of all councillors’ representation allowance spending has found they complied with city policy.

Individual councillors had an allowance in 2013 of $115,924 to spend for office expenses, assistants and some ward expenses.

Each councillor’s monthly expenses are posted online (http://winnipeg.ca/council/ExpensesCouncilWard.stm) and current records go back to 2007.

Whiteside noted some councillors (not identified) were filing their expenses late.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) spent the least — $59,065.55.

Only two councillors spent close to the allowable limit: Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) — $115,580.18; and Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) — $115,292.49.

In the past, funds not spent were returned to the city. But the governance committee is proposing councillors be allowed to carry over their unspent portions to the following year, up to a maximum of 10 per cent of the allowance.

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