December 9, 2018

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Mayor's executive policy committee votes for transit-fare freeze in 2019

Transit fares won’t rise Jan. 1 if Mayor Brian Bowman and members of executive policy committee have their way.

Councillors on EPC voted unanimously Wednesday to freeze fares at their current rate, owing to Winnipeg Transit's unexpected $7.9-million surplus generated from the 25-cent fare increase that went into effect on New Year's Day.

“In my view, and the view of EPC, it’s appropriate to freeze fares for a year,” finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham told reporters following Wednesday's meeting.

Gillingham said council needs to act now to freeze fares for 2019 before an automatic annual five-cent increase goes into effect Jan. 1.

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Transit fares won’t rise Jan. 1 if Mayor Brian Bowman and members of executive policy committee have their way.

Councillors on EPC voted unanimously Wednesday to freeze fares at their current rate, owing to Winnipeg Transit's unexpected $7.9-million surplus generated from the 25-cent fare increase that went into effect on New Year's Day.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

"In my view, and the view of EPC, it’s appropriate to freeze fares for a year," finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham told reporters following Wednesday's meeting.

Gillingham said council needs to act now to freeze fares for 2019 before an automatic annual five-cent increase goes into effect Jan. 1.

The freeze will be considered by council, likely at its Dec. 13 meeting.

Transit fares have, for many years, generally increased by five cents to start the new year to cover inflationary increases.

Last year, however, council cited the decision by the provincial government to end the 50-50 cost-sharing agreement for Winnipeg Transit’s operational costs and vehicle purchase requirements for adding an additional 20-cent fare increase in 2018.

Bowman told EPC that a a five-cent inflationary increase for 2019 "is unnecessary" given the size of the surplus.

Gillingham said the surplus caught the department and politicians by surprise, adding the 2018 budget was based on ridership trends that didn’t materialize.

"Budgeting is a forecasting exercise — this forecast was off," Gillingham said.

When the surplus was disclosed earlier this month, Winnipeg Transit officials explained that the 2018 budget was built on the assumption that the city would experience a similar ridership decline observed elsewhere in North America.

"Budgeting is a forecasting exercise — this forecast was off." - Finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham

And they believed the combined 25-cent fare increase would fuel a further ridership decline in Winnipeg.

However, ridership in Winnipeg remained stable between 2017 and 2018, producing the surplus.

A report to finance committee last week showed that fare revenue is expected to reach $198.1 million for 2018 — $4.4 million more than budgeted.

Transit officials told the finance committee that their preference would be to reinvest the entire $7.9 million surplus into the department’s capital expenditure reserve account but the transit union and transit supporters called on council to reinvest in safety and service improvements.

Bowman told reporters last week that he’d prefer to see the surplus spent on improving the lives of drivers and riders.

Gillingham said the fare freeze is the first step, adding there have been suggestions on how to spend that $7.9 million, including fare reductions, a low-income bus pass, safety initiatives for drivers and riders, purchasing more buses and improving transit schedules. All of the proposals will be considered as part of the budget review process.

"There’s been other initiatives and ideas that have been brought forward," he said. "Those haven’t been ruled out."

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

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.

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