A public transit advocacy group is driving home the need for increased funding for Winnipeg Transit and improved frequency on board city buses — before extending service to bedroom communities.
Functional Transit Winnipeg president Derek Koop said pass-ups, inefficiencies and service gaps in the network need to be resolved in the capital region first, as the city looks to award a $65,000 contract to review regional transportation to Winnipeg.
"Our big concern is with the transportation system as is. We don’t have funding for the needs of Winnipeggers right now," Koop said Monday. "We see the pass-ups (buses too full to allow additional passengers to board) have been increasing over the past five years, so clearly the levels of funding as is are not working.
"We really hope to see improvements on that aspect if we’re looking at adding more people to our system."
As part of the city’s efforts to develop a new transportation master plan by summer 2021, it has issued a number of requests for consultants to study new technologies, including the impact of driverless cars and intelligent systems; the movement of goods and transport carriers through Winnipeg; and regional opportunities for enhanced movement of people into the city.
As part of the study, a consultant will be looking at reintroducing public transportation between the city and bedroom communities and the addition of park-and-ride facilities on major regional corridors along the city’s outskirts. The plan, if adopted, would be implemented over 30 years.
However, for Winnipeggers relying on public transit today, the growth of the service has not kept pace with the city and resources are stretched thin, Koop said.
"At the end of the day, we really want to look at mode shift, but to start that conversation, we need to look at having a well working transit system," he said. "If we’re trying to connect people to inadequate service, I think we’re just planning for failure."
Last week, transportation master plan project manager Alex Regiec said a park-and-ride program servicing Headingley, Stonewall, Selkirk, St. Andrews, Rosser and other bedroom communities could reduce the number of vehicles on city roads, reduce the wear and tear on road infrastructure, and encourage ridership.
As it stands, city officials say Winnipeg Transit doesn't have the authority to operate outside city limits, unless it is contracted by another municipality.
The transit authority is also hoping to pivot to a city-wide frequent service network as part of the Winnipeg Transit Master Plan, set to be presented to council this spring. Koop said the city’s multi-year budget (2020-23) has to support the network rerouting and include investments in public transit to create a service that will meet the needs of new and existing customers.
"This is something that I believe is doable to do in this long-term budget," Koop said. "It could be implemented now, is something that Winnipeggers have been asking for, and Winnipeggers need."
The findings of a regional transportation study could enhance the City of Winnipeg’s position when it turns to other levels of government with funding requests, Winnipeg Metropolitan Region executive director Colleen Sklar said.
"We have to start to provide opportunities," Sklar said. "The best thing to do is to study them and do a cost-benefit analysis so we can come up with the best decision, but it can’t be at the expense of the taxpayers of the City of Winnipeg.
"This could be an opportunity for the region to support the city in asks of a federal nature, perhaps infrastructure, and an opportunity for the region to support ongoing services by participating and contributing to fees."
The Winnipeg Metropolitan Region represents a group of municipalities surrounding, and including the city, and serves as a regional economic development entity.
The need for better public transportation options for residents outside city limits exists, Sklar said, but the results of the study can’t be presupposed. Rather than overburdening Winnipeg Transit, Sklar expects the study to reinforce public transportation advocates’ calls for increased frequency.
"There’s a real opportunity right now to study these things in a way that includes the region," Sklar said. "There’s a demand to connect commuters, there’s a demand to connect students going to university and there’s a demand from seniors needing to get into the city for appointments.
"Working within a regional approach, we’re going to have more options to increase frequency and maybe increase routes," she said. "Winnipeg residents should see this as an opportunity to increase the transit system for everybody."
Danielle Da Silva