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Winnipeg Transit cuts likely avoided in 2020 after public works committee motion

A Winnipeg Transit bus. Shane Gibson/Global News

This story has been updated

Transit riders can likely rest a little easier after Winnipeg city councillors on the public works committee rejected major proposed cuts to transit service — at least for 2020.

The public works committee’s recommendation will now move to the budget working group, which will decide whether to accept it — the motion is not binding.

Earlier this fall, Winnipeg Transit’s yearly budget increase was capped at two per cent by Mayor Brian Bowman’s executive policy committee.

To fit within the two per cent target, Transit said it would need to reduce its operating budget in 2020 by $5.8 million; by $5.5 million in 2021; by $8.4 million in 2022; and $9.2 million in 2023.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Transit proposing major service, route cuts after city caps budget

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The committee passed a motion, brought forward by North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, suggesting the $5.8 million 2020 funding shortfall be funded with surplus earnings.

Winnipeg Transit has “consistently been realizing retained earnings from operations of around $5 million annually,” the motion reads.

“We heard loud and clear from residents that substantial cuts to Winnipeg transit were going to be a big problem for a lot of Winnipeggers,” Browaty said in an interview.

In subsequent years, the motion recommended service cuts be avoided using surplus earnings and possible federal funding.

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard, who chairs the public works committee, said he qualified his support for Browaty’s motion.

“[Browaty’s] motion doesn’t identify enough money to cancel the cuts — it does go in the right direction,” Allard said in a phone interview.
“It also goes above the mayor and [executive policy committee] mandate of 2 per cent a year for transit. The problem with the transit budget is there’s over  $40 million in capital that we don’t have a funding source for.”
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Those capital projects include buying new buses.

“I know now two per cent for transit essentially means cuts if you don’t have the capital source for replacing buses,” Allard said.

READ MORE: Winnipeg Transit union says members have accepted a deal with the city

The Amalgamated Transit Union 1505, which represents bus drivers and other transit workers, took the motion as a positive step.

“We’re pleased to see that councillors on the public works committee have heard the message from workers, riders and community members that cutting Transit isn’t acceptable. As a growing city, we need to be investing in transit, not cutting it,” an emailed statement from union local president Aleem Chaudhary reads in part.

“We hope that Mayor Bowman will listen to the democratic voices of the committee and reconsider the proposed cuts to transit.”

A transit advocacy group thinks more needs to be done to improve bus service and encourage ridership, rather than keeping service levels static.

“We knew the citizens wouldn’t accept these cuts, we knew the councillors would not pass these cuts,” said Derek Koop, Functional Transit Winnipeg’s president.

“We’re looking for the implementation of the frequent, direct and rapid routes on the [City of Winnipeg’s] transit master plan.”
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But the possibility of fewer cuts is better than the alternative.

“Not being kicked while you’re down is a positive but what we’re looking for is growth,” he said.

The public works committee motion also recommends the public works department avoid turning off street lights — in a November budget presentation, public works director Jim Berezowsky told the committee the city has about 76,000 street lights, but to keep within its budget cap the city would have to turn off 2,800 in 2021, 6,000 in 2022, and 9,500 in 2023.

READ MORE: Winnipeg police union warns of legal actions, officer retirements after pension changes

The motion dictates street lighting be maintained through savings council made after changing the Winnipeg Police Service pension plan — a projected savings of $14.7 million over 2020-2023.

However, the union that represents most city police officers, the Winnipeg Police Association, has warned of potential legal action because of the pension plan changes.

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