By Jenna Paterson-Coutts
Some say that city council has continuously played it safe by not investing in Winnipeg Transit, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that now’s the time to get to it. The pandemic has shown just how important public transit is for the local economy and for the city to flourish.
Kyle Owens, president of Functional Transit Winnipeg (FTW) says that great transit doesn’t, by itself, eliminate climate change, poverty, and make the city an easy and fun place to live. But if people want any of those things, the city needs great transit.
“The single most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint is to get people out of cars and into buses, regardless of the power system of those buses. Great transit is a crucial part of addressing climate change,” says Owens.
“If you want people to get a job, access childcare, spend money, but you need them to get a car first, that acts as a lock on poverty, keeping so many people in the city from escaping poverty,” continues Owens.
Owens says that great transit can provide mobile equity — providing the ability for everyone to move freely throughout the city as easily as someone from different economic means.
“If you want your city to be a great place to live, you need great transit,” says Owens.
Where Winnipeg Transit is going
The pandemic has not been easy, and Winnipeg Transit is not immune to its effects. Due to COVID-19, ridership, and therefore revenue, plummeted — while safety concerns have increased.
Issues with transit safety have been going up since 2017 after a passenger killed a bus driver, which prompted the city to put up plastic barriers between transit drivers and passengers. Anecdotally, you don’t need to look far to hear people’s tales of feeling threatened while using the service.
The low ridership has created a $3 million transit operating deficit, which retained earnings from previous years are being used to cover.
Because Winnipeg Transit is so important, the 25- year Winnipeg Transit Master Plan (WTMP), from 2021 to 2046, approved by Winnipeg council, highlights ways to improve the system and ways to increase ridership.
The plan shows what needs to be done to get more people on the bus, including having more buses that frequently show up every 15 minutes or less, making buses more accessible for people with mobility issues, and having easy-to-navigate routes.
The WTMP (presented in full below) stresses the importance of frequent transit.
Having this would help reduce buses getting too full and having no more room for other passengers to board, leaving these passengers passed over on the roadside waiting for a bus to potentially come 30 minutes or an hour or two hours later. Pre-pandemic it was a consistent complaint users had.
Owens says the master plan is OK but lacks details. Improvements should be done sooner, he believes.
“Unfortunately, the implementation plan from the city doesn’t show the key improvements even starting for another three years,” says Owens.