Improving Winnipeg’s transit system dominated a budget review session at city hall Thursday afternoon.
"If we want a world-class growing city, a transit service is imperative," Sandy Klowak, a member of Functional Transit Winnipeg, told city councillors.
Klowak was one of 60 city residents slated to speak at the special meeting of the public works committee for its budget review on Winnipeg Transit and the public works department.
Klowak urged the committee to disregard proposed cuts to Transit presented to the committee two weeks ago and instead find funds to create frequent, 10-minute service on all routes.
Transit officials had previously said drastic cuts would have to be made to stay within a two per cent annual increase imposed by Mayor Brian Bowman and members of his executive committee for the four-year budget.
The cuts proposed by Transit include:
Transit officials had developed a low-income bus pass program, but offered no way to fund the anticipated lost fare revenue ($1.3 million in 2020, $3.2 million in 2021, and $5 million annually thereafter).
Two themes that emerged Thursday from the members of the public who spoke is further investment in Transit is necessary to deal with threats posed by climate change, and city hall should redirect funding from roads to Transit.
Mel Marginet, with the Green Action Centre, said city spending on roads is unsustainable as the number of vehicles increases. Such funds would be better invested into improving Transit, which would encourage more people to leave their vehicles at home, she said.
"Roads are crumbling faster than you're ever going to be able to fix them," Marginet said.
On the other side of the coin was Chris Lorenc, president of the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association, who said the public works department is planning to scale back its local and regional street work by $36.2 million between 2020 and 2025.
"Forty per cent of Winnipeg streets are not in good condition and the city is nowhere near to reaching a sustainable level of funding for street repairs," Lorenc said, adding city hall needs to spend $80 million on its streets each year.
Lorenc was critical of council’s decision in the spring to use a portion of the dedicated road funding to finance bridge repairs.
"Instead of accepting there has to be another way to repair our infrastructure, the city says it’s time to settle for less, that we’ll always have some bad roads," said Lorenc, a former city councillor.
Meanwhile, Coun. Ross Eadie said the proposed service cuts at Transit and other departments had been the result of Bowman following directions from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce.
"We’re following the conservative, capitalist perspective on how we should deliver services or shouldn’t deliver services," Eadie told the committee. "We need to invest more in safe streets, transit."
Derek Koop, president of Functional Transit Winnipeg, said Transit's proposed cuts are irrelevant because the community would not support them.
Aleem Chaudhary, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents most Winnipeg Transit workers, said the proposed cuts make no sense in light of some of the changes the service is proposing.
Chaudhary questioned how Transit could eliminate almost 300 positions knowing it will have to hire dozens of staff to accommodate the new buses that will soon operate on the about-to-open southwest transit corridor.
"Somehow we’re proposing to freeze hiring or lay people off," Chaudhary asked. "It’s as if the left and right hand aren’t speaking to each other."
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.