An overwhelming majority of Winnipeggers support restoring the 50-50 public transit cost-sharing agreement between the city and province, a new poll from Probe Research has found.
For the second year in a row, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents 1,400 operators and maintenance workers, commissioned a poll on public perceptions about local transit and funding for the service.
The findings mirror those in the 2018 survey: around 80 per cent of Winnipeg adults believe it’s important the provincial government split the cost with the City of Winnipeg.
"People across the spectrum and across the city recognize the role the provincial government has to play in building transit," ATU 1505 spokesman Zach Fleisher said Thursday.
The province was required to match a municipality’s public transit operating budget up until 2016. The agreement was axed when the Progressive Conservatives froze transit operating funding. The city filled the funding gap by increasing bus fares and downtown parking prices.
Probe Research surveyed 1,200 adults in Manitoba, including 743 from Winnipeg, from its online panel, as well as another national online panel from Aug. 13 to 24. Probe said there is no statistical margin of error because an online panel is a sample of convenience.
Of all the Manitoba respondents, two-thirds agreed 50-50 funding is important.
A spokesperson for Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton called the prior funding agreement "open-ended and unsustainable" in a statement to the Free Press on Thursday.
"Our government is a proud supporter of public transit and we continue to provide significant funding that is sustainable," the spokesperson said, adding the province now supplies funding through an "unconditional basket" model that allows for greater flexibility.
Fleisher said the survey results show Winnipeggers recognize the value public transit provides in creating jobs and reducing a city’s carbon footprint — and additional provincial funding is key to achieving both. The transportation sector is second only to the oil and gas industry as the leading greenhouse-gas emitter in Canada, data from the Prairie Climate Centre show. Emissions produced by both commercial and personal vehicles account for around 28 per cent of the country’s emissions.
Three-quarters of Winnipeg respondents in the recent poll agreed boosting transit ridership is a priority when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Probe Research’s key findings, however, noted the sentiment is "somewhat lukewarm," since only 15 per cent of respondents said transit use should be a top priority in the fight against climate change.
At the city level, at least one councillor continues to push the province to reverse the "arbitrary cancellation" of the 50-50 agreement.
"Transit is of the utmost importance to a growing city. Especially in Winnipeg, the way that we’re built, our roads are limited in terms of how much larger they can get," said Coun. Matt Allard, chairman of the city’s public works committee.
Allard said an overarching focus on mode shift, otherwise known as active transportation modes and carpooling versus single-vehicle commuting, is needed to tackle Winnipeg’s emissions issue.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.