Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's All Aboard! the bus

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The Southwest Transitway opens officially on Sunday, but judging by the reaction to a free teaser on Thursday, it will be a huge success in terms of popular approval.

The disappointing feature is it is just 3.8 kilometres long, which is long enough to get a taste of what a rapid transit city might look like, but too short to provide a significant benefit to those travelling between downtown and south Winnipeg.

The three levels of government, however, have renewed their commitment to finishing the job, although it will be at least another two years before Ottawa considers another fund for transit projects.

Premier Greg Selinger says he is committed to providing one-third of the capital, while Mayor Sam Katz prefers a different method of financing, particularly the imposition of new consumption taxes.

In the end, however, the most important ingredient is the will and determination to succeed, which is now clearly on the table.

It's unfortunate that it has taken roughly 50 years of dreaming to get to this point, and hopefully it won't take as long to finish the job. Winnipeg is a city of renewed confidence, but it has fallen behind other cities that have developed extensive rapid transit systems.

Even smaller communities such as Gatineau and Brampton have spent more money and built longer routes than Winnipeg.

As Free Press reporter Bart Kives explains in today's FYI section, Mayor Katz has been unfairly saddled with most of the blame for the delays since he was first elected in 2004. Mr. Katz killed former mayor Glen Murray's $50-million blueprint for rapid transit, but the fact is the earlier plan was underfunded and incompletely planned.

The blame for Winnipeg's appalling tardiness can be shared by several administrations and by the indifference of citizens in a car-dominated city. As the price of gas rises and the city spreads out far and wide, however, a new consensus is emerging that rapid transit must be a priority.

The debate over light rail versus buses also appears to have been resolved, at least for the short term. Buses are affordable and flexible, with the ability to operate on or off a dedicated corridor. The use of buses also means the city can employ loops in and out of the busway to reach areas where land acquisition is too difficult.

The opening of the new busway is a modest beginning, but the city had to start somewhere, sometime.

The vagaries of the economy could delay future progress, but there is no stopping this bus now.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 A14

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