Whether it was concerns about driver safety, an increase in bus fares or riders tweeting en masse about #sardinelife, Winnipeg Transit made major headlines in 2017.
In late December, the Free Press asked city council members if, as a New Year's resolution, they would commit to riding the bus to and from work once per month, to get better acquainted with the service.
The only councillor who already buses to work daily is Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski). Eadie is legally blind and can't drive.
Of the 16 councillors, 11 were on board, but three of those 11 councillors accepted conditionally.
Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) and Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said they would do their best to take the bus while juggling family and work obligations. Mike Pagtakhan (Point Douglas) lives about 850 metres from City Hall, "therefore, he either walks, bikes or drives to work," according to his assistant, Vivian Armstrong Santos. The councillor said he will take the bus to other destinations.
Three councillors — John Orlikow (River Heights-Fort Garry), Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) and Russ Wyatt (Transcona) — have yet to respond to the initial request or followup inquiries. (This story will be updated online when they do.)
Mayor Brian Bowman and Coun. Marty Morantz (Charleswood-Tuxedo-Whyte Ridge) said they won't participate directly.
"The mayor already tries to take Winnipeg Transit as often as he is able to within the confines of a busy schedule and will continue to do so regardless of this challenge," said Jeremy Davis, Bowman's press secretary, in an email.
Morantz, who chairs the infrastructure and transit advisory committees, said he already uses transit "occasionally," and has scheduled a ride-along with a Winnipeg Transit operator to learn more about bus issues.
"Demands due to my Chairing the Infrastructure Committee require my having the ability to drive to different locations for meetings and announcements on a regular basis," he said in an email.
The Free Press will check in with councillors to see how their transit resolutions are going and whether their first-hand experiences affect their transit policy decisions. The councillors are encouraged to use #wfptransit on social media to document their rides.
Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) set his own transit challenge this month. He pledged to ride to work every day in January and check out every bus route running through his ward.
"I expect I’ll learn quite a bit by being a user every day of the service. I plan to talk to residents and drivers and really just document anything that I think is interesting," he said.
Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) said she hears transit complaints frequently from her constituents, including her 17-year-old daughter. She estimates her ward has more bus riders than any other, so she says keeping up to speed on transit is important to her.
"I think that’s the important part, is people want to know that we’re using the services that we’re putting money toward, that we’re making decisions on," Gilroy said.
She pointed to bus safety as one of her main focuses, highlighting the stop-request program that's available if riders want to get off between stops after 7 p.m. to feel more safe.
Transit advocates are eager to see how the councillors' bus challenge pans out.
"They’ll have the first-hand opportunity to see the issues that are surrounding the drivers for safety," said Aleem Chaudhary, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.
"And at the same time, I think it will be a positive thing for the councillors themselves to be able to ride the bus with their fellow constituents and be able to interact with them."
Joseph Kornelsen, chair of Functional Transit Winnipeg, encouraged the councillors to also try riding on a Sunday schedule when buses are much less frequent.
"To and from work is certainly important, but there are lots of people in the city who use transit for all their trips," Kornelsen said.
"There is a severe (transit) underfunding situation. While I’m happy that they’re doing this (challenge), it’s also very important to hopefully realizing what that underfunding looks like."
Kornelsen pointed to other Canadian cities, like Edmonton and Ottawa, that fund their transit systems to the tune of about $220 million each — far more per capita than Winnipeg's budget of $65 million.
Allard also cited Ottawa's as a transit system to strive for.
"I lived for close to a year in Ottawa, where it was faster to use transit than it was to use a private automobile," he said.
Eadie said Winnipeg Transit service is slipping as fare costs go up by 25 cents this year. An adult fare costs $2.95.
"If the service doesn’t improve, for the people who have a choice, it’s a great way to drive people off the bus," he said.
"If you want mass transportation to be competitive to the single automobile — or with Uber now, for that matter — you have to provide a convenient service."
Update, Jan. 11, 2018: Includes new information about councillors participating.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Wednesday, January 3, 2018 at 10:50 PM CST: Updates city council numbers
11:28 PM: updates to final edit
January 4, 2018 at 9:10 AM: Corrects increased fare
January 11, 2018 at 10:17 AM: Adds new information