Advertising campaign aims to attract riders back to Transit

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THE city is about to launch an ad campaign to attract Winnipeggers back to public transit amid fears that vulnerable folks’ reliance on bus shelters could hinder the effort.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/03/2022 (202 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE city is about to launch an ad campaign to attract Winnipeggers back to public transit amid fears that vulnerable folks’ reliance on bus shelters could hinder the effort.

During Thursday’s finance meeting, Winnipeg Transit director Greg Ewankiw noted a $50,000 marketing effort, set to begin in April, will pay for advertisements on bus benches and bus shelters, along with traditional ads and social media postings.

Coun. Scott Gillingham said he’s glad the campaign will arrive in a few weeks but urged Transit to also seek ways to ensure bus shelters are consistently available to riders.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Transit users wait for a bus on Portage Avenue close to Edmonton Street.

“I received a call again yesterday from one of my (constituents), she’s 85… She left a message saying ‘I take the bus all the time but I can’t even get in the bus shelters. I’m staying outside in the cold because the bus shelter is occupied’… We do really need to resolve the matter,” said Gillingham, who heads the finance committee.

After the meeting, he said the increasing reliance on bus shelters by the homeless population must be addressed as part of the effort to entice riders back to transit.

“That is an issue that our staff has to continue to work with Main Street Project and other social agency partners to address. We have to make transit shelters fully available to transit users again,” he said.

Gillingham said a return to pre-pandemic Transit ridership numbers is a key element of the city’s recovery from the major financial blow of COVID-19.

“It’s very important. … Of the $220-million financial impact to the city of COVID-19, $136 million of it is related to transit. So it’s very important that we see ridership recovery in transit from a financial perspective. Utilizing transit serves a lot of other goals as well, including (that) it’s a greener choice than taking a (personal) vehicle,” he said.

A finance report notes the pandemic is expected to create $136.2 million in lost revenue and added costs for Winnipeg Transit by the end of this year, out of a $220.7-million overall cost across the entire city.

Ewankiw told the committee Transit staff have taken a compassionate approach to connect with people who stay in bus shacks, by giving them information on options for shelter and meals.

That’s paired with intermittent cleaning.

“From time to time, we go into the shelters and ask those inhabiting them to vacate them and to take their personal belongings and then we’ll do a bit of a deep cleaning… some leave for a while and they do return after time or they do move on to a different shelter,” he said.

End Homelessness Winnipeg says a lack of affordable housing units in Winnipeg has led to people sleeping in bus shelters.

Kris Clemens, the organization’s communications manager, recently told the Free Press the city has 709 fewer low-income housing units than it did in 2019 — and would need 300 more units each year to address current needs.

The city’s strategy to address homelessness has shifted from ordering people to move away from transit shelters to attempting to connect them with community organizations that can help them access services.

Meanwhile, it’s generally tough to predict how long it will take for transit ridership to fully recover, said Ewankiw, noting it’s at about 56 per cent of normal levels.

“We are seeing ridership increases greater than many other transit systems but it is very difficult to forecast … You just don’t know what’s going to hit us next,” he said.

The city’s chief financial officer told the committee the lengthy strain on Transit finances has left it vulnerable.

“These pandemic shocks to the finances of transit have reduced its ability to absorb future financial challenges,” said Catherine Kloepfer.

The committee did, however, receive some positive financial news about the financial recovery from COVID-19.

Winnipeg’s regional unemployment rate fell to 6.9 per cent in 2021, after reaching 9.1 per cent in 2020, according to a presentation by city economist Tyler Markowsky.

“We’re seeing some good indicators of the labour force returning to where it was (pre-pandemic),” said Markowsky.

There are now more active businesses in Winnipeg than there were prior to the pandemic, a figure that reached 18,434 by the fall of 2021, after dropping to 16,452 in 2020.

Markowsky said it appears employment gains have occurred more slowly in central and lower-income areas of the city.

joyanne.pursaga@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga
Reporter

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.

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