Winnipeggers who rely on accessible bus service solely during the winter could soon have a longer riding season.
However, the timeline would still be shorter than it was prior to 2020.
Winnipeg Transit Plus is proposing to offer access to winter-only clients from at least Nov. 1 to April 15, pending city council approval. Up to 250 clients qualify for that seasonal service due to mobility challenges in moving over ice and snow.
A manager could also start up winter service if the seven-day Environment Canada forecast predicts a snowfall of three centimetres and/or freezing rain, ice or a wind chill of -15 C of colder.
Presently, winter weather conditions must occur, not just be in the forecast, to trigger winter-only access.
Marcia Barkman, a Transit Plus rider, said the new proposal would improve what was in place last winter, when the guaranteed service period shrunk to Dec. 15 to March 31 (from the previous block of Oct. 15 to April 15). Under that policy, extra dates could still be added following wintery weather.
Barkman said the rides are needed throughout the winter to ensure users can go to work, book appointments and shop.
"If this isn’t set in place… I bet you a majority of the disabled (community) are going to end up (stuck) at home," she said Thursday.
Barkman said snow and ice make her walks far more risky, making it much more difficult to access standard buses in the winter, since she has a significant limp due to cerebral palsy.
"With (cerebral palsy) comes balance issues. There may be sometimes when you’re OK, and then other times you could be walking on a sidewalk and the sidewalk looks absolutely clear… and then the next thing, you are flat on your nose," she said.
Both Barkman and Patrick Stewart, a consultant with the Independent Living Resource Centre, said they’d prefer a return to the full Oct. 15 to April 15 service period.
"Restoring the old policy would be the best way to go, but this is a very positive step," said Stewart. "With snow and ice, the degree in which they impact someone’s mobility, someone’s safety can’t really be overstated."
Stewart said the new proposal reflects concerns from many riders with limited mobility over the previously reduced season. Those complaints increased following an early dump of snow that did stick around, which ultimately led the city to start service at the end of October 2020.
He said having at least some fixed dates is key to ensuring Transit Plus riders can plan their lives.
"Having fixed dates is certainly what’s in the best interests of consumers of the service... It errs on the side of safety. It also errs on the side of common sense," he said.
When the city approved a shorter winter service timeline in early 2020, it based the change on a review of snow accumulation in Winnipeg over the past decade. That review found October snow didn’t tend to stick around more than three days and significant snowfall rarely accumulated until mid-December.
Coun. Matt Allard, chairman of the public works committee, said he expects the latest winter proposal would improve service, though he’ll await feedback to determine his final vote.
"I think it’s a better balance than what we had before, in particular knowing that we have a (clear) definition now for what winter conditions (that would trigger the service) are," said Allard.
The St. Boniface councillor said the city must ensure accessible rides are available when cold and ice sets in.
"I think this goes towards this direction of ensuring we’re aligning service with actual weather conditions. (It’s) the right direction given the increasing unpredictability of our weather in Winnipeg."
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.