Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let's get this bus moving

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No sooner had the province and city announced, just days before the deadline, they had reached an agreement on finishing the southwest rapid transit corridor the naysayers piped up in opposition.

Five councillors voted against the second phase of the project last March for a variety of reasons, including opposition to the route and doubts about whether it would increase ridership. Now, a sixth councillor, Scott Fielding, says the $600-million cost could be put to better use on other civic priorities.

Residents who live near the Parker Lands, where the transitway will make a dogleg before heading south to the University of Manitoba, have also vowed to continue fighting the development.

Winnipeg has been talking about rapid transit for at least 50 years, but it has fallen behind other major Canadian cities that have recognized the value of transit in easing congestion, pollution and wear and tear on roads.

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

Rapid transit is also a matter of social justice, since it offers the poor the opportunity to get across the city in a reasonable period of time.

Other cities have discovered that when they built rapid transit, the public responded positively and demanded more. One study said Winnipeg will experience a 40 per cent increase in ridership by 2026, just seven years after Phase 2 is to be completed.

The blame for Winnipeg's 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, however, a new consensus is emerging that rapid transit must be a priority.

If the city waited until it filled every pothole and resurfaced every road before proceeding with rapid transit, however, the task would never get done and Winnipeg would eventually be known as a community trapped in the past.

It's fair to debate the best route to finish the corridor, but the question of whether rapid transit is a desirable social good should no longer be on the table.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2013 A14

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