Next stop: a better transit system?
Winnipeg transit advocates are hoping an event series could spark a movement calling for improved bus service in the City of Winnipeg.
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Advocates who are worried transit is "very rarely talked about in Winnipeg" have a plan to change that this year; it involves "humanizing transit" for riders, city councillors, and soon, a new transit director.
Joseph Kornelsen, who chairs the citizen group Functional Transit Winnipeg, said outside of safety concerns and rapid bus lines, decision-makers and Winnipeggers alike seldom look critically at the city's existing transit service.
He explained how that lack of widespread criticism and the notion that "we're a car town because that's what Winnipeg was built for," has siphoned momentum off support for a better public transportation system.
The result has been, by Kornelsen's assessment, an underfunded, infrequent service that doesn't serve people as well as it could on many of its often circuitous routes.
"So what we're trying to do is reframe the conversation so we're talking about how the service actually works," Kornelsen said. "We want to bring to the forefront what it means to have a good service, show people what an effective transit service looks like.
"It should be frequent, there when you need it, arriving as close to your destination as possible."
To that end, Kornelsen and Functional Transit have partnered with Climate Change Connection and the Amalgamated Transit Union to bring internationally-recognized transit expert Jarrett Walker to speak in Winnipeg with hopes that he will spark interest in something "other than where the next BRT corridor should go."
Walker, a transit policy consultant and author, brings ideas that align with what Kornelsen is hoping to expose people in Winnipeg to, like how transit can be simple if the focus is on fitting it to the community and its ridership's needs.
"He says a lot of things that we really appreciate about transit," Kornelsen said.
After his keynote May 11 at the Manitoba Museum, Kornelsen wants to keep momentum from Walker's shared advice going on May 18 and 27 at the University of Winnipeg's Richardson College for the Environment atrium.
"We want to bring a local focus into the conversation, follow his talk up with a local transit panel taking place one week after that event, then we're going to do a series of round table discussions," Kornelsen said, adding he's "reaching out to transit decision makers… city councillors, the mayor… to set up meetings" with Walker.
While he admits an event series might not be the thing that transforms transit in the city, he hopes new advocates–born from the right people learning they can expect more from transit–just might.
"The tangible result from all this is how we talk about transit… what really matters is how people think about it, and getting them to be notifying the city about what they would like to see," he said. "That's what we'd really like to happen."
The timing for refreshed expectations is right– the city is currently in the process of hiring a new transit director.
Kornelsen said he's hoping new and old transit advocates are ready to "push the city" and the new director to take on a "customer service focus" moving forward.
"I believe the key to getting anything done is having the public really push for it," he said. "We've been a little bit quieter, we've gone and done our delegations at each budget, and when issues of transit come up we'll show up (at City Hall), but this has been in the works now for several months and we want this to be something really worthwhile."