A project 44 years in the making is finally open and running a full schedule — at a time when few people are taking the bus.
The Southwest Transit Corridor quietly opened last week to no fanfare. The corridor, which links the University of Manitoba to downtown Winnipeg, opened in the middle of a global coronavirus pandemic.
Coun. Janice Lukes told 680 CJOB Monday morning that it’s bittersweet to see the second phase of rapid transit open at a time when bus ridership is down due to COVID-19.
“Everything’s upside down,” said Lukes.
“I’m telling people, don’t go on play structures. Don’t hang out with your friends on the weekends. Don’t go and take the bus. You know, it’s a crazy world right now.”
Lukes, who is the councillor for Waverley West, campaigned on making sure the corridor was built.
City administrators first recommended building the corridor in the late 1970s. But now that it’s finally open, it makes little sense to run buses down the corridor at high frequency when transit ridership is down 70 per cent, said Lukes.
“My understanding was that maybe an enhanced Saturday schedule would be how the routes and how the system would be introduced,” said Lukes.
“Well, they’ve posted signs, they’ve done advertising. All this work has been going on.
“I just can’t comprehend why it’s running at high-frequency mode.”
Cities all over the country are “bleeding money,” said Lukes, and have started reducing their transit schedules.
To not do the same in Winnipeg speaks of fiscal irresponsibility, she said.
“I’m not happy right now.”
David Driedger, spokesperson for the City of Winnipeg, said the transit department has four service changes yearly and a significant amount of planning is needed to change them.
“Winnipeg Transit is working with operators and the ATU (Amalgamated Transit Union) to consider service reductions across the city as Transit continues to experience very low utilization on many routes,” he said.
Routes along the new service line and the rest of Winnipeg’s transit routes may be reduced or cancelled in the near future, he said, once “new service patterns are understood.”
“Adjusting service with experience along a Rapid Transit Corridor is consistent with what we did with the first phase of Rapid Transit.”
He noted that the extra room on buses right now means people are able to physically distance from one another.
Coun. Scott Gillingham, the city’s finance chair, told 680 CJOB he’s calling for transit cuts, as council looks at ways to stop the financial bleeding during the pandemic.
“Ultimately I believe we do need to scale back service. Running empty buses up and down a new BRT corridor every five minutes cannot be justified,” he said.
“If the implications are that (the pandemic) will continue until the end of April, then we’re looking at a budget shortfall of $33 million. If it continues until the end of July, we’re looking at a budget shortfall that we’re estimating at about $73 million.”
Gillingham said council has looked into laying off city staff — which could include transit employees — as recently as last week, but no layoffs are imminent just yet.
ATU president John Callahan says service shouldn’t be reduced to make up for the loss in revenue.