Councillors nix motion to change bus rapid transit to light rail

Winnipeg city councillors have rejected a motion to consider replacing the city's entire bus rapid transit system with light rail.
Winnipeg city councillors have rejected a motion to consider replacing the city's entire bus rapid transit system with light rail. 1:45

Winnipeg city councillors have rejected a motion to consider replacing the city's entire bus rapid transit system with light rail.

Councillors and Mayor Sam Katz voted against referring a report to the Executive Policy Committee to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of changing the existing bus rapid transit (BRT) system to light rapid transit, or LRT.

The current rapid transit line from downtown to Pembina Highway and Jubilee Avenue uses buses, and current plans to extend the line to the University of Manitoba also involve buses.

The motion by Transcona Coun. Russ Wyatt, which was presented at Tuesday's council meeting, called on council to "endorse a full LRT [light rail transit] project connecting east Winnipeg via the downtown and into the University of Manitoba." (Read the full text of the motion below.)

Mayor Sam Katz, who voted against the motion, said he never doubted that support for a bus-based rapid transit system would be stronger.

"There's a few councillors who had some other thoughts but, you know, this council has decided to move forward with bus rapid transit," he told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

"I believe it's the right thing to do. We need to be consistent."

Katz added that Tuesday's vote means the city can proceed with public hearings on the rapid transit line extension. The hearings are required for the approval of any public-private financing with the federal government.

Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who seconded Wyatt's motion, had said now would be the time to make bigger plans for rapid transit, as final funding plans for the second phase have not yet been put in place.

"Calgary started their rail system when the population was around [440,000]. We're well beyond that," Havixbeck told CBC News on Monday evening.

Transit officials and Katz have previously said the existing section of rapid transit could be converted to light rail quite easily.

However, Havixbeck said she cannot find any mention of the possibility of conversion from BRT to LRT in any city report, and she wants those assurances clearly put in writing. She cited this concern as a major reason why she supported Wyatt's motion.

'More delay games,' says transit group

The future of Winnipeg's rapid transit system has been the subject of vigorous debate in recent weeks.

Last week, North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty called for a referendum on whether the second phase of rapid transit should proceed, despite years of planning that's already been done.

Havixbeck, who is running for mayor in this fall's civic election, said last week that she would not support the idea of a referendum.

The ongoing discussions are frustrating Paul Hesse of the Rapid Transit Coalition, who said there has already been enough studying and planning on the issue.

"My feeling is that this is more delay games," Hesse said.

"I'll explain: we've got a BRT system that's operational. We have buses, we have a bus garage. We don't have trains, we don't have a train garage."

Read the motion

Below is the motion that was moved on Tuesday by Coun. Russ Wyatt, and seconded by Coun. Paula Havixbeck, calling on councillors to replace the city's bus rapid transit system to light rail.


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