I first mentioned my support of an affordable or fare-free public transit system in Winnipeg in 2018.
Since I’ve been elected, my council colleagues and I have taken small steps to reducing some of the barriers to public transit. In 2019, council introduced the low-income bus pass and earlier this year we introduced fare-free rides for children 11 and under.
The COVID-19 pandemic has vividly shown the inequalities in our government systems and policies. Motivated by the inequities exacerbated by the pandemic, I want to lead, inspire and work together to create opportunities for a more efficient and equitable Winnipeg. That is why I am motivated to continue my efforts to advocate for an affordable or fare-free public transit system.
Earlier this month, I introduced a motion at the Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan community committee requesting the city’s public administration to begin researching the costs and effects of both an affordable ($1 per ride) or fare-free transit system in Winnipeg.
Based on data from other cities across the world that have adopted fare-free systems, we know this method has the ability to jump-start economic growth, proactively address climate change and help to remove mobility barriers for families and seniors — at all income levels.
Government support programs like this have shown a 2:1 return on investment, meaning that for every dollar we save a Winnipegger, two additional dollars are returned to our local economy. A fare-free public transit system will keep more money in the pockets of Winnipeggers and help spur the local economy.
Quite simply, more people on buses means more money in the economy. Fare-free transit would provide mobility to Winnipeggers who need to travel across the city for work, job interviews or volunteer shifts. We want to encourage more Winnipeggers to use transit as their option to attend sporting events, restaurants or shopping for essentials — and the savings in riding public transit correlate to more money spent in the local economy.
While the complexities of post-pandemic recovery programs are interconnected with other levels of government, as the civic partner in this equation we can fulfill our duties to provide access to public transportation to help mobilize people.
A fare-free transit system is also environmentally sustainable. The climate crisis should be a priority decision-making lens for all levels of government. While I agree our public transit system needs broader improvements, an affordable or fare-free system is a first step to encouraging people to transition to public transit.
I’m aware that my motion may not resonate with all Winnipeggers and entice them to take public transit. For some, it is just not of interest, but I believe there is a significant population that would be motivated by a fare-free system. Many Winnipeggers could benefit from a reduced fare or fare-free system, such as university and college students, soon-to-retire baby boomers and hard-working families going back to work post-pandemic.
In many cities that have implemented a fare-free system they discovered savings and benefits they didn’t expect — savings that ultimately made the program more affordable for both government and citizens.
While fare-free policies eliminate revenues collected at the fare boxes, they also reduce larger operational costs associated with setting and collecting fares. Many jurisdictions reported more efficiencies in transit routes with time saved from collecting fares as well as a reduction of assaults related to fare disputes.
I look forward to getting the wheels going on this motion (pun intended) to initiate post-pandemic growth and opportunities in our city by reducing more barriers to public transportation.
Public transit is critical to the future success of Winnipeg. I will continue to fight to make it accessible for all.
Point Douglas ward report
Vivian Santos is city councillor for Point Douglas.