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City hits brakes on transit cuts, but not fare hike

EPC chooses additional 50-cent street-parking increase

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p></p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

A controversial proposal that would cut or reduce service on transit routes with low ridership is off the table after Mayor Brian Bowman and councillors on his executive policy committee responded to Winnipeggers’ opposition and opted instead to increase on-street parking rates.

It was one of several amendments to the 2018 budget made Friday morning; the budget goes to council for a vote Tuesday.

The handful of approved amendments include studying the possibility of reduced transit fares for low-income riders, but there were no revisions to the planned across-the-board 25-cent fare increase that will be implemented Jan. 1.

The 50-cent parking rate hike is being added to the $1-per-hour increase already included in the budget proposal. EPC is directing the Winnipeg Parking Authority to direct $1 million of the additional street-parking revenue to transit to help offset financial challenges arising from low ridership in some areas and the province’s decision to freeze funding at 2016 levels.

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A controversial proposal that would cut or reduce service on transit routes with low ridership is off the table after Mayor Brian Bowman and councillors on his executive policy committee responded to Winnipeggers’ opposition and opted instead to increase on-street parking rates.

It was one of several amendments to the 2018 budget made Friday morning; the budget goes to council for a vote Tuesday.

The handful of approved amendments include studying the possibility of reduced transit fares for low-income riders, but there were no revisions to the planned across-the-board 25-cent fare increase that will be implemented Jan. 1.

The 50-cent parking rate hike is being added to the $1-per-hour increase already included in the budget proposal. EPC is directing the Winnipeg Parking Authority to direct $1 million of the additional street-parking revenue to transit to help offset financial challenges arising from low ridership in some areas and the province’s decision to freeze funding at 2016 levels.

The decision to abandon service reductions and route cuts was welcome news to several groups advocating for transit riders, but the fare increase — and EPC’s failure to address their concerns — remains a priority. Low- and fixed-income riders will be hit hardest, they say, and a verdict on a new fare category won’t come until a transit operations review is completed in the new year.

Several groups have planned a rally at city hall Monday at noon to again raise the fare issue before Tuesday’s vote.

"Any implementation (of a low-fare option) would take time," said Kate Kehler, executive director of the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg. "January is when the fare increase would go through and that would hurt a lot of people very quickly."

Kehler said a similar promise to study a low-fare option was made in 2010. "Nothing came from it," she said.

Joseph Kornelsen, spokesman for Functional Transit Winnipeg, said the decision to leave service intact is an important first step but more needs to be done.

"A nine-per-cent (fare) increase is big for anybody’s budget," he said.

Winnipeg Labour Council president Basia Sokal pointed to Calgary’s low-income monthly pass — which will be replaced by a three-level reduced-fare scale in the spring — as a progressive option.

"It could help alleviate problems with fare evasions," she said.

Josh Brandon, chair of Make Poverty History Manitoba, said hundreds of Winnipeggers called councillors to protest. "It’s good to hear we’re having some impact on city council," he said.

Other proposed amendments approved by EPC Friday included additional funding to address a variety of park maintenance and repair projects: cancelling the south Winnipeg library project and reallocating $11.75 million to a proposed south Winnipeg regional recreation facility in the area, along with $1.75 million for a Grant Park recreational campus and clarifying that $50 million of the provincial capital funding allocation to the city be used to fund road projects, $40 million of which will go to regional and local street renewal.

Bowman said the amendments were made in response to concerns raised by the public through the budget review process.

"We heard loud and clear from Winnipeggers," he said. "I’m glad we found a way to make tough decisions."

Transit had identified its 22 lowest-ridership routes that would be candidates for service reductions during non-peak hours — late mornings, early afternoons, evenings and weekends.

Bowman later told reporters that while the routes are safe for the time being, transit officials have an obligation to continually review all routes with the objective of achieving maximum efficiencies.

Bowman said Coun. Cindy Gilroy, chairwoman of council’s innovation committee, played a big role in getting EPC to change course.

"Coun. Gilroy has been very effective at persuading me and the EPC colleagues to make the changes we brought in today and we listened," he said.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca erik.pindera@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin and Erik Pindera.

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History

Updated on Friday, December 8, 2017 at 12:34 PM CST: Writethru

3:15 PM: Write thru, adds pdf study

December 9, 2017 at 9:11 AM: Edited

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