Winnipeg Coun. Russ Wyatt says the city has to re-think the future of rapid transit and look to rails rather than roads.
The city is in the middle of planning the next stage of its Southwest Transitway bus rapid transit (BRT) system from Jubilee Avenue to Bison Drive, near the University of Manitoba.
But Wyatt believes the city has grown enough to justify switching gears to a light rail transit system instead.
That option is costlier but Wyatt says a rail system will attract more riders and as such, more revenue.
"BRT does have the ability to handle an increase in ridership, but an LRT can do it far more," he said.
"And the other part we recognized, you know, the fact is, you will attract new ridership to an LRT that you just can't or won't with a BRT."
The estimated cost of the new BRT route is now $450 million. Wyatt said a rail option would be double that but could be financed in a public private partnership, making it a viable option.
"We could be building a LRT line right from the eastern side of the city, right through the downtown and right south to the University of Manitoba," he said.
"And we could be doing it now if we had the vision, the courage and the political will to make this happen."
An LRT system has been discussed before and was the subject of a long council debate back in 2010, just as the corridor for Stage 1 of the Southwest Transitway between The Forks and Jubilee Avenue was under construction.
Although the city had already committed to a BRT for Stage 1 — and had been given funding from the province for that — the idea of LRT for future expansions of the transitway was raised by Mayor Sam Katz.
He suggested it after learning an LRT system wouldn't be as expensive to build as he first thought. At the time, he said a kilometre of bus rapid transit would cost $38 million, while light rail would cost $50 million.
City council shortly afterwards also voted for light rail as the preferred option of the future.
In addition to Stage 2 of the Southwest Transitway corridor, the city is planning routes to the city's northeast and northwest areas.
An Eastern Transitway corridor would go from downtown Winnipeg to Transcona and a Northwest Transitway corridor would take passengers along Portage Avenue from Polo Park to downtown, then continue on Main Street to Inkster Boulevard in West Kildonan.