Brian Bowman used the backdrop of a transit stop for some Winnipeg Transit-related campaign commitments Monday.
The mayoral candidate vowed to bring in a low-income bus pass, scrap needed upgrades to the Fort Rouge transit garage in favour of 55 new heated bus shelters, and launch a series of accessibility upgrades to bus stops.
However, when questioned by reporters on details of the low-income bus pass, Bowman couldn’t say what such a program would cost, when it will happen, or what price low-income riders would be paying.
Bowman also couldn’t elaborate on the $4.1-million worth of Transit garage upgrades he thought should be scrapped to finance the cost of the heated bus shelters over the next four years — the incumbent didn’t know what he was cutting from the bus garage upgrades, which garage would be affected, and how effective heated bus shelters are at keeping waiting riders warm.
And while Bowman committed to improving accessibility for riders at bus stops, it turns out that was a $2-million program city council approved last year and Transit will launch in 2019.
The announcement drew middling support from the local transit union.
Aleem Chaudhary said the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 (ATU 1505) supports the introduction of a low-income bus pass, but he wanted to see specifics of Bowman’s commitment.
"We are interested to know the details of the program," the ATU 1505 president said Monday in a statement issued by his office, adding the provincial government currently covers the transit costs of some riders through its Employment and Income Assistance program.
Chaudhary also said he is in favour of improving rider comfort, but not at the expense of needed garage upgrades, which would have to be provided at a later date and would likely prove to be more expensive because of the delay.
On the question of heated bus shelters, Bowman initially referred reporters to Transit officials for details on what he proposes to cut, and then said the garage upgrades are designed to keep the buses warmer at night.
"I’d rather keep our Transit riders warmer during the day," he said.
The transit upgrades identified in the approved 2018 capital budget include a new roof for the Fort Rouge garage, at a cost of $2.5 million, and $1.6 million for repairs to the concrete floor, and replacement of a wash rack and main water-supply line.
When it comes to providing heat, Bowman said the primary function of the heated bus shelters was to keep passengers warm while waiting for the next bus.
"If you ask someone who’s waiting in -35 C degree weather whether they’d rather be without a shelter or in one that’s heated, I’ll take the one that’s heated," Bowman said.
However, a Twitter message sent from Winnipeg Transit to a rider on Jan. 5 — when the daytime high was -20 C — said the heaters aren’t effective at those extreme cold temperatures.
"With outside temperatures this low, the inside of a bus shelter will not be much different (than the outside)," said the Twitter message from Transit. "The heaters are not designed to heat the shelter in weather this cold, but to keep the windows clear."
A Transit spokesperson said Monday the bus shelter heaters, which are located under shelter seats, are designed only to "take the edge off the cold for our passengers.
The heaters also serve to prevent the glass panels from frosting over, enabling operators to see passengers waiting inside."
The spokesperson said the heaters are turned on manually by Transit staff when daytime temperatures approach 0 C.
When asked by a reporter how much the low-income bus pass would cost Winnipeg Transit or taxpayers, Bowman said that kind of information will be generated from a long-range operational review of the service and whatever the cost would have to come out of Transit’s operating budget.
The cost of a low-income bus pass would come with the overall operating budget of the transit service, he said.
"That will be a key decision of the next council."
Winnipeg’s civic election is Oct. 24.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Monday, October 1, 2018 at 7:15 PM CDT: Final version, full write through
The Free Press Election Extra lets you know about everything that matters in 2018’s civic election. Receive it in your inbox three times a week until Election Day.Subscribe to Election Extra
By subscribing to the above e-mail alerts I agree to receive selected communications from Winnipeg Free Press, even if I have previously opted out from communications. E-mail preferences can be changed at any time under 'My Account->My Email Alerts'.