September 26, 2017

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City mulls fare hikes, cuts to Transit

Provincial austerity blamed

KEN GIGLIOTTI / FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Initially, city officials believed the province’s decision would result in a $5-million cut to Winnipeg Transit, but the impact is more severe — it’s now estimated to be $8 million this year alone and will continue going forward.</p>

KEN GIGLIOTTI / FREE PRESS FILES

Initially, city officials believed the province’s decision would result in a $5-million cut to Winnipeg Transit, but the impact is more severe — it’s now estimated to be $8 million this year alone and will continue going forward.

Winnipeg Transit will face service cuts, higher fare increases or a combination of both next year, as city hall grapples with the continuing fallout from the Manitoba government’s austerity measures.

Mayor Brian Bowman and chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said it’s uncertain if the province will lift the freeze on funding to the city, making it challenging as Winnipeg prepares its 2018 budget.

“I said early on that there would be pain felt by Winnipeggers as a result of cuts from the provincial government and this is that case when it comes to Transit,” Bowman told reporters on Wednesday.

While it’s too late in the year to impose service cuts or fare increases, every option is being considered next time around, he added.

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Winnipeg Transit will face service cuts, higher fare increases or a combination of both next year, as city hall grapples with the continuing fallout from the Manitoba government’s austerity measures.

Mayor Brian Bowman and chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said it’s uncertain if the province will lift the freeze on funding to the city, making it challenging as Winnipeg prepares its 2018 budget.

"I said early on that there would be pain felt by Winnipeggers as a result of cuts from the provincial government and this is that case when it comes to Transit," Bowman told reporters on Wednesday.

While it’s too late in the year to impose service cuts or fare increases, every option is being considered next time around, he added.

"As we prepare for next year’s budget… there will be pain," the mayor said.

"Ultimately, council will have to decide if that is lowering service levels or transit fare increases or a combination of both."

The Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Brian Pallister, announced in the spring it was freezing funding to municipalities at 2016 levels and ending the 50-50 cost-sharing agreement for Winnipeg Transit’s operating costs.

Initially, city officials believed the province’s decision would result in a $5-million cut to Transit, but the impact is more severe — it’s now estimated to be $8 million this year alone and will continue going forward.

To adjust for the lost revenue, Transit postponed the purchase of several buses and is considering a further postponement of other capital projects.

The spring provincial budget also resulted in city hall getting $2 million less than anticipated for policing costs.

Bowman and McNeil said as the city prepares next year’s budget, civic officials have asked the province what it can expect in terms of funding, but have not received an answer.

The uncertainty will make it difficult for council, the mayor said.

Bowman said he’s committed to keeping a property tax increase to 2.33 per cent for 2018, regardless of the amount of funding from the province, adding council will have to decide if service cuts will be necessary and what those will be or if other fees will be increased.

"There is pain that we’re expecting," he said.

"There are going to be some very difficult decisions that council will have to make."

Bowman said despite the provincial government’s lack of support for public transit, Winnipeg needs to continue to enhance and expand the system as the city continues to grow.

The mayor said any possible cuts to Transit will not affect safety measures for drivers and passengers.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Aldo Santin.

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History

Updated on Thursday, September 14, 2017 at 8:41 AM CDT: Edited

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