News / Winnipeg

Winnipeg transit advocates shift gears, turn attention to city budget

Budget 'scary to contemplate from the transit rider’s perspective,' advocate says.

“Ultimately, transit is a customer service industry,” Finance Chairperson Coun. Scott Gillingham said at an October meeting. “For this 2018 budget, given the changes in the provincial funding, given that ridership is down, something has to give.

LYLE STAFFORD / For Metro

“Ultimately, transit is a customer service industry,” Finance Chairperson Coun. Scott Gillingham said at an October meeting. “For this 2018 budget, given the changes in the provincial funding, given that ridership is down, something has to give.

After the provincial government officially ended a long-standing commitment to splitting transit operating costs evenly with municipalities, Functional Transit Winnipeg (FTW) is turning its attention to the city budget.

The group of transit advocates had been campaigning for months to preserve a 50-50 cost-sharing agreement—while gathering more than 1,500 signatures on a petition calling for the same—before that cause was undone by an omnibus budget bill passed in the legislature last week.

Chairperson Joseph Kornelsen said the loss of predictable funding is disappointing, but with the City of Winnipeg’s preliminary budget coming on Nov. 22 next week, FTW’s work isn’t done yet.

“What (the 2018) budget is going to look like is certainly scary to contemplate from the transit rider’s perspective,” he said in an interview Monday. “They haven’t made it a secret that there are going to be cuts coming, which we don’t want to see.”

Kornelsen explained comments he’s heard from the city’s finance committee chairperson about finding efficiencies and increasing fares are taking Winnipeg Transit in the wrong direction.

“Winnipeg Transit has previously won an award for being the most efficient transit network in Canada… doing the most with the least amount of money,” he said. “They’re already running a pretty tight ship, so to find efficiencies is hard to imagine.”

But as efficient with the money available as the service is, Kornelsen knows many buses are over-crowded, and the service is often unreliable—both issues he says could be fixed with higher frequency on key routes, which requires extra funding.

One thing Kornelsen said he finds “heartening” heading into this budget season is that survey respondents participating in the city’s 2018 pre-budget consultation identified transit as the top “strategic investment area.”

More than 20 per cent of respondents ranked targeted transit investment to make the service “a more reliable, competitive and convenient alternative to driving” above spending on roads and bridges, as well as active transportation.

Kornelsen hopes councillors will hear what residents are saying in that survey and increase the subsidy for Winnipeg Transit before considering any fare increase or service cuts.

“We’re going to fight for that like we always do,” he said.

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