Gord Steeves says it’s time to get off the bus.
He supported the bus rapid transit (BRT) project when he was a councillor and he supported completion of Phase 2 of the project in May when council was mired in a debate over the plan’s future.
But Steeves has reversed his decision and said it’s time to kill the project.
Speaking Friday from a spot near Parker Avenue in northwest Fort Garry — where the corridor is planned to go — Steeves said if elected mayor, he would introduce a motion to kill the $600-million project at the first council meeting after the Oct. 22 election.
Steeves said the project proposed now is different and more expensive than when he was a councillor. While he supported it three months ago, he said after further analysis, "the BRT plan does not hold up, and I can no longer support it."
Steeves said city council has not made any provision for the $20 million needed annually for 30 years to pay for its share of the project, adding he’s concerned that will mean a four to five per cent property-tax increase.
"I believe this project will do more harm than good," Steeves said, adding the controversial dogleg route alongside the Parker lands will hurt development on Pembina Highway between Bishop Grandin Boulevard and Jubilee Avenue.
His reversal caught other mayoral hopefuls by surprise, all of them describing it as a political ploy.
Brian Bowman said Steeves’ reversal is typical of the style of politics that has dominated city hall.
"It’s important for our elected officials to stand on principle and not just polling," Bowman, who supports completion of BRT, said. "I’m not sure what’s changed from a few weeks ago when former councillor Steeves indicated full support for rapid transit as well as the route, but what we’re seeing now is a pretty big flip-flop in the middle of a campaign."
Steeves said the current plan is a major change from what he supported while a councillor, when the route was entirely along Pembina Highway.
"We’re essentially running a rapid-transit line through an empty field... with virtually no chance of good development," he said, referring to the route that briefly veers west from Pembina Highway.
"Building this phase of BRT would be a monumental mistake for our city that would be one that we would regret for decades to come."
Steeves said the $600-million price tag and increased debt and borrowing costs can’t be justified by the vague promises of a few minutes savings in commute time every morning.
Steeves said it’s not necessary to hold a referendum on the project, as proposed by Coun. Jeff Browaty, adding the election is the referendum and voters should cast their ballots based on candidates’ position on the transit corridor.
Steeves said he wouldn’t support BRT even with a new route without the Parker dogleg, adding the money could be better spent on more urgently needed infrastructure projects.