The Winnipeg Transit Master Plan has been given a final green light by city council, after a lengthy debate about its potential cost.
Council cast a final 15-1 vote Thursday evening, to approve the proposal that will cost up to $1.5 billion, redraw nearly all existing bus routes, create a network of six rapid transit corridors, and add electric buses to the fleet over the next 25 years.
"(The) master plan really does provide a road map for Winnipeg Transit to modernize and make long-needed improvements," said Mayor Brian Bowman.
By contrast, Coun. Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood) said detail on some of the key costs is lacking, leaving him with too many financial questions to support the changes. He cast the sole opposing vote.
"It looks great politically to say we’re going to invest $1.5 billion in Transit… But what does it mean? What are the risks and have we considered that?" asked Klein.
Despite supporting the plan, Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), too, expressed concern over how council will pay for it.
Mayes stressed Transit spending shouldn’t be diverted from major sewage projects, such as a $2.3-billion plan to reduce combined sewer overflows.
"I’d like to do more on Transit, but I’m also not a big fan of putting more human waste in the rivers, unchecked," he said.
The new blueprint was welcomed by advocates Thursday, especially steps to create more-frequent bus service for more Winnipeggers.
"Almost triple the number of houses will be a short distance from a Transit stop, with a bus coming every 15 minutes," said Derek Koop, president of Functional Transit Winnipeg. "That is huge. It’s a big change, it’s an exciting change."
Winnipegger Ken Klassen urged council to speed up the rollout of the plan, arguing the city is moving too slowly to update its public transportation system when compared to other Canadian centres.
"(This) really is a 10-year plan, not a 25-year plan, if you benchmark what we’re doing against other cities," said Klassen.
The mayor acknowledged the up-to-$1.5-billion plan will take plenty of time to fund its goals.
"In typical Winnipeg fashion, this is using… the least amount of finances to try to get the maximum value for Winnipeggers," said Bowman. "It delivers the most cost-effective plan to move forward with modernizing Winnipeg Transit, a system that was largely designed for our grandparents."
The mayor said speeding up the plan would require significant funding commitments from senior governments.
"I’d love it if all of the changes could be implemented immediately. This is about building a Transit system with the available dollars," he said.
The master plan does call upon council to apply for $539 million from the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program to support its first six capital projects. If approved, those initial costs would be split between the city, province and Ottawa.
Meanwhile, council also amended the plan Thursday to seek higher standards for snow and ice clearing around key bus stops.
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.