Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Riders take spin on new rapid transit system

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For many Winnipeggers, the hottest Easter ticket in town came with a free transfer.

Sure, there wasn't any chocolate and no hidden eggs either, but scores of transit riders and curious onlookers still turned out to take in the official launch of the city's new rapid transit bus service, which began regular operations on Sunday.

For much of the brisk but sunny Easter afternoon, folks milled through the looming glass edifice of the new Osborne Station, peeking in the bike lockers and perusing the new transit maps posted inside.

Transit representatives were on hand to distribute pamphlets explaining the transitway and its new routes. Ten Winnipeg Transit routes, including three new routes, will use the entire transitway. Three other routes will use the transitway's northernmost portion.

Many riders said they came out just to test out the transitway, which includes stops at the Fort Rouge Yards, Confusion Corner and Harkness Street. The rapid-transit routes terminate at Balmoral Station near the University of Winnipeg, relying on the Graham transit mall to get to that site.

Early reviews of the service were glowing.

"My favourite part about it is not so much the time it saves, but that the Harkness Station is placed ideally for people from St. Boniface to take the bus," said Gabriel Tougas, who came out with friend Mathieu Labossière to check out the route.

"I'd love to see this model applied elsewhere, to all four corners of the city. It should spread a spider web radiating out from downtown."

Representatives from Winnipeg Transit said that the launch of the service went smoothly on Sunday, with high passenger loads considering the holiday. Many buses were standing-room-only, they said.

Transit officials expect the real test of the transitway will be Tuesday, when the Easter long weekend is over for all workers.

No trading cars for bus rides

WINNIPEG Transit has put the kibosh on one councillor's idea of offering free lifetime transit rides in exchange for a car.

At July's city council meeting, Coun. Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) introduced a motion calling for Winnipeg Transit to explore the idea of copying a car-for-transit exchange program, such as in Murcia, Spain. Heavily congested Murcia offers free lifetime transit to residents who turn in a working, fully paid-up vehicle.

In a report to council's public works committee, transit officials suggest the plan wouldn't work in Winnipeg, and not just because of this city's relatively low density.

"The lifetime commitment required of potential participants suggests that legitimate interest in the program would likely be low," transit engineer Bjorn Radstrom writes. "However, the participation rate of people looking to acquire an inexpensive used car specifically for participating in this program would likely be high."

As well, the plan would cost the city a lot of money, Radstrom writes. The city would receive about $500 worth of scrap metal for every vehicle, but spend $18,500 on every such rider, assuming each requires 20 years of free transit passes.

Murcia seems to be the only city where the program exists -- and the Spanish city doesn't seem too eager to talk about it.

"While several attempts were made to contact officials at the City of Murcia to discuss the program, no response was received," Radstrom writes.

-Bartley Kives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 9, 2012 A5

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