Tag Archives: bus rapid transit

State of the City: Winnipeg Transit is on the Move

by His Worship Brian Bowman, Mayor of Winnipeg

Welcome back to another month of SmartBiz, Winnipeg! Last month I talked about tourism in our city, and this month I’d like to talk about rapid transit – something that will help support Winnipeg’s tourism, as well as benefit our residents tremendously as we grow towards one million people strong.

At the beginning of June, Winnipeg hosted many different Mayors from cities, big and small, from across Canada at the Big City Mayors Caucus meeting and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities meeting and trade show.

It was interesting to speak with Mayors visiting from cities with one million people or more. In their cities, rapid transit is already well established and an important part of their transportation infrastructure. Cities like Calgary, Ottawa, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto all have some form of rapid transit, and some have more than just one.

For me, it is clear Winnipeg requires a rapid transit system, and the time to build that system for the future is now, before we reach one million people.

We need to make strategic investments in infrastructure based on future demands, not the demands of today. This is certainly not a new or novel strategy. All infrastructure investments we make need to meet current demands but also prepare us for future pressures arising from a growing city.

I believe Winnipeg needs to be part of the conversations other big cities are having, and that we need to keep our city moving forward. We simply cannot continue with previous City Councils’ track records of delaying decision making and forcing difficult decisions onto subsequent Councils.

Several years ago, City Council decided on bus rapid transit as the optimal rapid transit system for Winnipeg. In June, Council had a difficult decision to make with respect to land acquisition, and I expect there will be other difficult decisions to be made in this regard. However, I continue to believe in moving forward with a bus rapid transit system. But, like any project, I don’t believe in it at any and all cost. We need to monitor its progress closely.

This is why I was very encouraged to learn about significant cost savings identified for the second phase of the Southwest Rapid Transitway. Cost savings of $120 million have been identified for this project, and it is currently on-track and on-time with construction scheduled to start later this year.

It is unfortunate that some councillors want to move us backward and revisit the debate over what type of rapid transit system is best for Winnipeg. Some have even recommended the City cancel bus rapid transit in favour of a light rail system at anywhere from 2.5 to 50 times the cost of bus rapid transit. I don’t believe that is a cost or a delay the City can endure at this time, and do not feel we should be throwing away all of the money already invested in years of planning and engineering work. Through careful planning, however, investments being made today in bus rapid transit infrastructure can be converted to light rail in the future if required.

The second phase of bus rapid transit represents one of the largest capital projects in the City’s history. For this project, we have secured $365 million dollars from our provincial and federal partners. Now is not the time to walk away from $365 million in federal and provincial commitments, and to walk away from a project we need to build today to make our city better tomorrow.

I also do not want to go back to the days of Council fighting over what rapid transit system they want. I certainly appreciate for many councillors and many Winnipeggers, bus rapid transit continues to be a controversial issue. But I do not want to move our city backwards. I want to continue moving us forward and to build our city for the future.

As we get set to begin construction on the second phase of rapid transit, we need to begin examining the next best route. The City of Winnipeg’s Transportation Plan identifies the eastern corridor as the next priority for rapid transit, and work is currently underway to examine and develop the conceptual design as well as the broad implementation strategy for the next rapid transit route that would link Transcona to the downtown.

I believe Winnipeg’s future is bright. And, together, we can build a city we can all be proud of. A modern and efficient rapid transit system plays an integral role in supporting a city that is growing to one million people strong.

How to make using public transit attractive

Buses have been in the news the last few weeks. A strike was recently avoided and service is back to normal.

For many years, Winnipeg Transit complained that not enough people take the bus. Today, this trend has been reversed and the concern now is that the system is nearing capacity. According to Dave Wardrop, director of Transit, the system had 50 million riders in 2014. He predicts that the city will need 37 new buses a year to meet the demand created by new housing. He also says that growth in 2014 was only .06 per cent, so maybe continued growth needs a reboot.

Now, I haven’t been on a bus for many years – they just aren’t easily accessible where I live and I often need my car during the day. I hear from my colleagues, though, that bussing is no picnic. Older buses are still not air-conditioned in summer and, say some, “You can’t get warm on a bus in winter.”

“The seats are so hard that you break your bones when the bus hits a pot-hole,” said my husband, who has taken a bus after leaving his car at the repair shop. I hear this from others. The seats are not only hard, they are so close together that tall men are forced to sit on the side benches at the front – or stand up.

Not that standing is the safest thing to do. Often, as the bus moves forward, it does so with a momentum-forcing jerk. People fall. Sometimes the driver will stop and wait to ensure that the fallen is okay, but as often as not, the bus just keeps going.

This is a constant problem, says faithful bus rider Joan Cohen: the bus naturally jerks on braking and accelerating. “It doesn’t seem to be something that’s easy to control,” she says in defense of the drivers, “but what would help is if they would wait to move forward until you take your seat or at least get to a seat so you can hang on to something.” Buses today offer overhead straps to support standing travelers, but they don’t help when you are moving toward your seat or moving toward the exit doors. And in the Easy Access buses, the area where the wheelchairs can be accommodated offers nothing for the rider walking to his seat to hang onto. “This is even a problem for big guys like me,” says Jason Wikis. Karl Thomsen agrees and says that he has seen more than one person fall when the bus takes off.

Joan says that another issue has to do with the painted buses, the ones where advertising covers the windows. “Not only can you not see outside to learn when you are nearing your stop,” she notes, “but it reduces the amount of light that can get in, making it hard for passengers to read.” She adds that in fall and winter, when passengers are often travelling in the dark, some buses have the lights on so dimly that seeing print is an impossibility.

On certain routes at certain times of the day, buses are overcrowded. At other times, Sundays, for example, depending on where you live, bussing it is often not a feasible alternative. Buses run once an hour or often not at all. There is no question that scheduling can be a problem for managers.

Casual bus users should beware: you must have the correct change. Of course, there is nothing to stop you from throwing in extra. The single adult fare is $2.60, but apparently many users drop in a toonie and a loonie to avoid fumbling for quarters and dimes. The weekly pass costs $20.25; the monthly goes for $86.65 (which saves $13.20 annually over the weekly pass so might as well go weekly). Buying tickets will save you 45 cents a ride over cash. You can get a transfer if you have to change buses, but the transfer is good only for 75 minutes. Post secondary students and seniors get a break: it’s $60.35 a month for students and seniors can travel for as little as 43.35 a month on both Handi-Transit and the regular service.

“Tickets can be purchased almost anywhere,” says Karl Thomsen. “It’s very convenient.”

In spite of the growing ridership, fueled by immigration (both from rural Manitoba and other countries), the city will subsidize Winnipeg Transit to the tune of $47.3 million this coming year. Public transit is still a drag on the public purse.

However, there is another way to look at this.

Leaving the driving to someone else has its allure and there is probably a market for those who want to spend their commuting time working rather than driving. So here’s a new idea: luxury bussing. Since we have to increase the fleet, this would be a good time to introduce a new level of service.

New buses could be divided into first and last class, first class being equipped with cushioned seats and more legroom. Air-conditioning and good winter heating would be standard. Pull-down tables and electrical ports for cellphones, tablets and laptops would be part of the service and Wi-Fi should be available (for the whole bus – this is 2015, after all!). This part of the bus would be well lit, no window paint allowed. You could even have a fresh coffee vendor service in those handy Starbucks-type cups, to avoid spillage . . .

Of course there would be an up-charge for this service: perhaps double or triple and even more if the luxury commute could be extended to affluent bedroom communities. Who wouldn’t prefer this over ice-covered, snow-blown highways in winter?

Now before you go start ripping up the paper and saying that I am an incorrigible Tory, always supporting the elites, think again. Extra money into the system could elevate the service for everyone. We would be able to accommodate more people and therefore buy more buses. We’d be removing single passenger cars from the road – and we’d be making it possible for the real workaholics to pursue their passion: work!