Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk has promised to overhaul the city’s entire transit operation in six years with more buses, all-electric buses and a new route system.

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Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk has promised to overhaul the city’s entire transit operation in six years with more buses, all-electric buses and a new route system.

Motkaluk vowed to buy 830 electric buses over the next six years, replacing all of Transit’s 640 diesel buses and increasing the size of the fleet by another 190 vehicles.

Standing at a downtown bus stop Tuesday morning on Portage Avenue, Motkaluk also said she would reconfigure the entire transit route system, eliminating the hub-and-spoke system that sends most buses through the downtown.

"Unreliability, frequent pass-ups and routes that make no sense, along with safety concerns, have caused our transit ridership to actually decline for the past two decades," Motkaluk said. "While I’m against Brian Bowman’s version of BRT (bus rapid transit), make no mistake — I am pro-transit, because efficient and reliable public transportation is a necessary part of a thriving city."

Motkaluk said she would finance the massive transit overhaul by accessing a share of the $1.1 billion Ottawa has allocated to Manitoba through the federal green infrastructure fund and redirecting funds targeted for the construction of five additional transit corridors.

“Unreliability, frequent pass–ups and routes that make no sense, along with safety concerns, have caused our transit ridership to actually decline for the past two decades,” – mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk

"The key to better service is more buses, more often, on routes that make sense."

Motkaluk’s announcement Tuesday morning is one of several she has made regarding transit issues.

She previously vowed to halt the construction of any further transit corridors following the completion of the southwest corridor and would assign police to provide security on buses.

Like previous announcements, Motkaluk was unable to provide an explanation of how she would pay for the transit overhaul, saying only that she would release a detailed costing plan for all of her campaign promises at a later time.

Motkaluk has been busy as of late, holding regular news conferences on policy positions all the while trying to establish herself as a credible alternative to incumbent Brian Bowman.

There are seven other candidates who have registered to challenge Bowman in the Oct. 24 election, but only Motkaluk has been holding regular news conferences.

In addition to her transit promises, Motkaluk has previously outlined positions on expanding the police-in-schools initiative and keeping pedestrians out of the Portage and Main intersection.

In contrast, Bowman said last week that he wouldn’t begin campaigning in earnest until after the September council meeting.

Motkaluk’s transit announcement drew a mixed response from the union that represents most transit employees, which was encouraged by her support to expand the size of the fleet and convert it to electric.

But Aleem Chaudhary, president of ATU Local 1505, said he remains disappointed with Motkaluk’s previous proposal to halt future transit corridor construction.

Chaudhary said electric buses and their charging infrastructure are ideally suited for bus-only transit corridors, adding the city should not pit transit corridors against improvement to regular transit service.

Motkaluk’s plan reflects many of the same proposals suggested in the past by the transit advocate group Functional Transit Winnipeg, which did not go unnoticed by its chairman Joseph Kornelsen.

"We were aware she was going to be making a (transit) announcement but I didn’t realize she was going to be using language exactly as ours," said Kornelsen, who has brought the same message to city hall for the need to expand the fleet and increase frequency of service.

Kornelsen applauded Motkaluk’s desire to transform Transit but, like Chaudhary, he said he was troubled by her insistence on putting a stop to rapid transit.

Bowman’s campaign said the mayor supports electrification of buses, but it should be done slowly, following the recommendation of a joint province-city task force which proposed the addition of 12 to 20 electric buses.

"Half a billion dollars to switch out a just-recently-renewed bus fleet is a total waste of taxpayer money, is extremely risky and is not an approach supported by industry experts," said Kelly McCrae, Bowman’s campaign spokesman. "Electrifying the city’s bus fleet needs to be undertaken in a careful, phased in approach that respects taxpayers rather than handing them a half a billion dollar liability."

McCrae said Bowman is already involved in discussions with the province to leverage federal funds to improve Transit.

Motkaluk said converting the transit fleet from diesel to electric would save almost $22 million annually in fuel costs, but she conceded an entirely electric system would require a massive charging infrastructure.

Expanding the size of the fleet by 30 per cent would also require an additional 30 per cent more transit drivers, she said, which would cost about $18 million a year.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca