‘Not a penny’ to get more Winnipeggers to take the bus

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One might expect loud cheers from mass transit advocates after the three levels of government announced $539 million for Winnipeg Transit on Thursday.

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One might expect loud cheers from mass transit advocates after the three levels of government announced $539 million for Winnipeg Transit on Thursday.

Their responses, however, were low key because there’s nothing in the announcement to make more Winnipeggers gung-ho about taking the bus.

“Half-a-billion dollars and not a penny is being spent to improve service,” said Brent Bellamy, a Winnipeg architect and columnist who advocates for improved transportation.

JESSE BOILY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES The response from transit advocates regarding the Winnipeg Transit funding was low key because there’s nothing in the announcement to make more Winnipeggers gung-ho about taking the bus.

“We are in a climate crisis and an affordability crisis,” he said. “Improving transit frequency and service to attract more riders is a response to both.”

The city is struggling to attract riders after the pandemic, Bellamy said. Even before COVID-19, he said, Winnipeg was the only major city in Canada to have lower transit ridership than it did 20 years ago. “Every effort should be made to improve service,” said Bellamy.

Functional Transit Winnipeg, a grassroots advocacy group, agrees.

“What’s really going to get people excited about using transit is shorter wait times, more frequent service,” said vice-president Matt Austman. Still, the long-overdue money for a new garage and buses was welcome news, he said.

“As a transit advocacy organization, it’s more funding for capital projects and infrastructure to support Transit. That’s a good thing from our perspective,” Austman said after the announcement. “It’s only one piece of the puzzle,” though.

The challenge is the operational side of the transit master plan, Austman said. “It’s about more buses, more frequent service,” that are desperately needed in Winnipeg more than ever, he said.

“With gas hovering around $2 a litre right now, people need other options,” he said.

Winnipeg’s manager of transit service development promised service will be more frequent years from now.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES “Half-a-billion dollars and not a penny is being spent to improve service,” said Brent Bellamy, a Winnipeg architect and columnist who advocates for improved transportation.

“We’re basically taking the existing route network, throwing it out the window and redrawing it from scratch,” Bjorn Radstrom said Thursday. It includes $7 million to plan a complete overhaul of Winnipeg routes, he said.

“It literally doubles the number of people in the city who are within a five-minute walk of frequent transit service,” said Radstrom. “It’s a much more efficient network, as well. It gets us 20 per cent more capacity without having to invest in any additional resources, or additional bus hours. We don’t need more buses. We get 20 per cent more capacity because the network is that much more efficient.”

The newly designed network will include six new corridors, with three lines and loops at the end of the routes, some terminals, an elevated portion through Union Station, heated shelters, new signals and be “transformational,” the planner said.

“It will take to 2025-26 to do that design,” Radstrom said. “The $7 million for the preliminary design allows us to get to the level of the design detail where we could apply for funding to build it.”

He said ridership is just over 70 per cent; some riders might still be working from home and not coming back.

“We need the new master plan to attract new riders,” said Radstrom.

The city has 646 buses and Thursday’s announcement works out to 16 net new buses added.

“We’re not expanding the fleet greatly,” Radstrom said.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES “We’re basically taking the existing route network, throwing it out the window and redrawing it from scratch,” said Bjorn Radstrom, Manager of Service Development, Winnipeg Transit (left, glasses).

Thanks to to the efficiencies expected from the route overhaul, “we don’t need a lot of new buses.”

Hiring enough drivers for the existing fleet is hard enough, said Romeo Ignacio, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

The pay is decent but concerns about safety persist, he said. The union leader said he hopes the city and the province can work together to address some of the systemic issues that result in bus shelters being misused, drivers being assaulted and riders fearing for their safety.

“Now, there’s a lot more people that are suffering from poverty, the root cause of homelessness and, of course, drug addiction, the root cause of a crime,” said Ignacio.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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