Fixing Winnipeg’s transit woes, advocate Brian Pincott of Functional Transit Winnipeg says, could have far-reaching effects on the city’s finances as well as its environmental impact.
Pincott told Global News that more Winnipeggers leaving cars at home and hopping on a bus for their daily commute means less wear and tear on perpetually under-repair city streets, and will be a positive from the perspective of climate change — but first Winnipeg needs to make it a desirable option.
“Let’s start by making it a functional and reasonable choice for pretty much everyone in the city. That means starting with a frequent service network where the majority of Winnipeggers can actually step out their door and know a bus will be coming within ten minutes,” he said.
“How do you improve service … so that it is a choice that people are willing to make? And beyond willing to make, actually able to make.”
With numerous violent incidents on city buses in recent memory, transit safety is a legitimate concern, Pincott said, but a great way to combat the issue — which cities across Canada are struggling with — is to make transit more desirable as an option.
“We need to look at all the people that used to use it and don’t use it anymore. That’s where you need to start.
“One of the best things we can do to improve safety is to actually get more people riding the bus — having more frequent service and having it more reliable so more and more people are using it.”
Mayoral candidate Rick Shone said if elected, his infrastructure investments would be more targeted to public transit than roads for passenger vehicles.
Shone said frequency is the name of the game to increase ridership in the short term, as any route with transfers often makes it quite a bit slower than driving, and the city’s current transit plan will take too long to create a solution.
“We actually don’t fund the frequent network part of this plan until starting sometime in 2024-25 and I think that’s a mistake — we need to find that money to fund that part right now,” he said.
“Travelling to other cities … the thing that impressed me the most is that if you can get transit stops within, say, 500 metres of someone’s house, the chances of them using the bus increases quite a bit.”
Shone said making buses, and bus stops, safer is certainly a concern, but a simple way to improve ridership could also come from making them cleaner. Shone said he’s seen riders wait for a bus in the rain because a shack at the stop was in disarray.
“I think the first thing we need to do is make sure that the shacks are visually safe,” he said. “When empty, Transit needs to get there, they need to clean these shacks, they need to make sure they’re usable for riders.”
Robert-Falcon Ouellette’s campaign is focusing on making the transit experience safe, affordable, convenient and clean.
The candidate said Thursday that, if elected, he would move toward a $1 bus fare — significantly more affordable than today’s full fare of $3.10.
“We want to drive up ridership on the bus — we want to make it $1 to ride the bus so that there is no excuse — that simply we get our young people riding the bus, we get our seniors, and we make sure that we reduce costs.
“If we can get ridership up, it’s going to cover many of those costs on its own.”
Ouellette pointed to a significant drop in bus ridership in the city over the past few decades, and said safety improvements could play a large role in bringing the numbers back up, with the long-term goal being zero tolerance for any bad behaviour.
“I think really making the buses safe is a priority of anyone,” he said.
“This is why we want to put in place and enable the transit supervisors to be peace officers, and have a zero-tolerance policy for any violence that occurs on the bus — those buses will not move unless the people are removed if they are being disruptive and causing issues on the bus … no one wants to ride a bus if they’re afraid.”
In a statement Thursday, candidate Rana Bokhari said she also intends to reduce the cost of bus ridership if elected mayor.
Bokhari said she would endeavour to drop the price of a monthly bus pass to $20 over the next four years. At present, the cost of a monthly pass exceeds $100 for a full fare.
“All the candidates have made pledges around transit, recognizing it’s a vital economic system and climate-change combater for the city,” Bokhari said.
“As the pandemic has taken its toll and inflation rises, and the problems caused by climate change only worsen, I want to encourage Winnipeggers to take transit more often; while making it more attractive to do so.”
In addition to the reduction in fares, Bokhari’s transit plan seeks to replace buses that age out of service with new electric buses, set up a park-and-ride system for commuters who work in the city, offer better service to suburbs and increase bus frequency on busy routes.
Jenny Motkaluk said her biggest concern in the election campaign is making sure Winnipeggers have more opportunity for jobs and income — something that isn’t necessarily possible when current transit routes don’t visit some of the city’s largest employers.
“We are going to fast-track the route redesign that will provide for more frequency and also to ensure that transit is available to employees of Winnipeg’s largest employers in the industrial parks,” Motkaluk said.
Frequency of buses, Motkaluk said, is the key, rather than sinking more city funds into purchasing more buses.
“It’s not about adding more buses. It’s about doing better planning and it’s about deciding where those buses are going to go and how frequently they’re going to run — and that’s the work that we need to do.
“It does not require a capital investment, it just requires a little bit of planning and thinking.”
Shaun Loney says the city would be better served if it tapped in to transit-on-demand and idea where you can summon a van or car to pick you up and take you to the larger bus station nearby.
He says it would be a massive accessibility improvement for people with mobility issues, because they could call a small vehicle like a van directly to their home.
“Letting vans do what they do really well and letting buses do what they do really well and we just think this approach will give Winnipeggers reason to wonder why they might need that second car or even a car at all,” Loney said.
Loney says the city could implement this change in time to cancel the purchase of 135 diesel buses, which was announced in late July. He believes the city is at a “rare moment of alignment” on transit priorities – and believes he can push the envelope so that action is taken sooner than currently planned.
Glen Murray has previously said he would electrify Winnipeg’s entire bus fleet by 2030.
Scott Gillingham says he plans to speed up the city’s 25-year master plan.
“The first commitment I made was to add 33 buses over the next few years, and restore transit service to 100 per cent,” Gillingham said. “Those 33 buses would assist us in getting more buses on the roads for more frequent service and begin tackling some of those master plan goals.”
He also says he would add on-demand transit for certain communities, like Castleberry Meadows and Waterford Green.
Kevin Klein says the two common transit complaints he hears from residents are safety and the bus shelters. But he says putting peace or security officers is not the solution.
“We need to have trained professionals, and I would work with the police board to make sure we’re meeting the needs, values, and expectations of residents by ensuring police that may be inside the police station to be replaced by cadets,” said Klein. “And we take a group (of police) focused on transit.”