The opening of the expanded southwest transit corridor in April is going to lead to a wholesale change in bus routes in that quadrant of the city.
Winnipeg Transit is proposing to cancel 18 current routes, redraw 10 and introduce 14 new ones that will link the surrounding neighbourhoods into the new transit corridor.
Transit describes the changes as the backbone to its new "spine-and-feeder" service model, promising faster trips, more frequent service on individual routes, and a reduction in the number of dreaded "pass-ups."
The "spine" in the system is the corridor.
"What I’d like people to do is when looking at the new maps and schedules, don’t think, ‘What’s happening to my route?’ Think of it as, ‘How do I plan my route with this new system?" Bjorn Radstrom, Winnipeg Transit’s manager of service development, told reporters.
"If you only think about what happened to (a specific) route, you missed the fact that there’s actually a lot more freedom, flexibility and opportunity to get around with this. The whole spine-and-feeder system does give people a lot more flexibility. We’ve got better frequency and longer service hours."
In a report to Monday’s public works meeting, Transit says the new model is necessary to realize the promise of the "efficient, fast and reliable" service using the corridor.
Adam Budowski, Transit’s manager of the southwest routes revamp, told reporters that the changes will reduce travel times in the southwest corridor between five and eight minutes in good weather.
Budowski said the route changes were made after "extensive" public consultations with residents in that section of the city, adding they had been well received by U of M students and residents surrounding the campus.
While some riders expressed concern over the increased need for transfers onto the Blue Line, Budowski said the overall response was "overwhelming."
"They really liked what they were hearing and that they are going to get a more frequent system that can get them to multiple different places, not just to downtown in peak periods," he said.
The route changes require council approval.
The spine-and-feeder network will add $2.55 million to Transit’s operating budget (a 1.2 per cent increase from 2019 budget), with additional annual increases of $3.48 million in 2021, $3.57 million in 2022 and $3.59 million for 2023.
However, it’s not clear whether city hall can still afford to implement the proposed network. On Oct. 18, Mayor Brian Bowman and finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham announced a two per cent annual cap on Transit’s operating budget for the next four years; the new network, as envisioned, will consume a large chunk of that cap.
Without a change in the two per cent cap, the costs of the revamp will eat up 60 per cent of the proposed budget increase in the first year and 80 per cent of the increase in each of the subsequent three years, leaving few dollars to cover increases in salaries, fuel and parts.
Radstrom said it’s council’s responsibility to fit the cost of the revamp into the overall proposed budget increase for Winnipeg Transit.
"This is the plan we were tasked with developing and we’re bringing forward this as a recommendation for council to consider," Radstrom said. "As part of the budget process, it’s being brought forward to council and that’s when those decisions will have to be made."
Transit has already ordered 28 new 18-metre (60-foot) articulated buses, which should be completed by the end of the year.
Radstrom said the articulated buses, with increased rider capacity, should reduce the number of "pass-ups" — situations where buses at capacity speed past stops where frustrated people are waiting.
In addition to the route changes, Transit is requesting council approval to hire 38 bus operators, four operation supervisors, a manager for the new corridor, five maintenance staff and half-time customer-service and finance additions.
The corridor routes have been dubbed the Blue Line and will include the entire length of the express corridor from downtown to the University of Manitoba, and adds stops from the university south to St. Norbert along Pembina Highway.
Budowski said Blue Line buses will start at the downtown end of the corridor; half will head to the U of M, and the other half will continue on Pembina Highway to St. Norbert on an alternating basis.
Buses and ridership throughout the revamped network will be monitored closely to determine if the changes are meeting the plan’s objectives, Radstrom said.
The administrative reports states the new proposed feeder routes will use familiar routing to connect passengers to the spine routes.
Radstrom said that suburban routes that used to wind their way downtown will now be replaced with new routes, or modifications to existing routes, that take riders to the transit corridor.
Budowski said if council approves the changes to take effect in April, Transit will do an extensive community outreach initiative in the month before the changes occur, alerting riders of the changes to the current routes and the new routes through a mail campaign and new signage.
"Any stop where there are going to be changes, people will see new signage," Budowski said.
Radstrom said Transit-related development along the corridor will provide access to the new residential developments in the Jubilee neighbourhood, the former Sugar Beets lands of Bishop Grandin Crossing and the U of M’s development of the former Southwood Golf and Country Club property.
Employees heading to and from the industrial subdivisions along the corridor route at the new Seel, Chevrier and Clarence stations, Radstrom said, will benefit from faster service.
"We don’t want everyone travelling in one direction," Radstrom said. "If you have people going to work along the transitway and living along the transitway, that’s a really good way for us to provide service."
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.
Updated on Tuesday, October 29, 2019 at 6:13 PM CDT: full write-thru, updated quotes, info, formatting
6:35 PM: Updates headline
8:59 PM: Fixes typos
9:48 PM: Fixes typo.