As gas prices reach a record high of 129.9 cents per litre in Winnipeg, a local transportation expert says the time has come to reinvent the city's outdated transit system.
Winnipeg Transit says ridership is on the rise — but most Winnipeggers don't and won't take the bus because transportation trends have changed, says Barry Prentice, an analyst at the University of Manitoba.
"The No. 1 problem is something everybody knows, and that is: in general, the bus doesn't go where you want to go when you want to go," he said.
Winnipeg Transit rides per year
Most transit users in the past simply used the bus to travel to and from the city's downtown, Prentice said. But today, people need to travel from the suburbs all over the city, which can involve long trips and long waits using the city's current transit system — and would-be bus riders aren't buying it, he said.
"We have to provide a service that meets the need and try to keep people from buying that second car or get them to sell that second car. We'd have a huge impact on the city if we did that."
Prentice envisions what he calls a "hub-and-spoke" transit system, which would include the usual city buses on major routes, as well as mini-buses or shuttle services picking up suburbanites at their homes — possibly when summoned by the rider — and ferrying them to transfer stations.
"People who live in the suburbs, they'd pay something more for the feeder service, but they would get good service," he said. "They'd be picked up at their home, taken to a comfortable station and zipped off to where they want to go."
Such a system would be much more customer-service oriented, he told CBC News, and would cause ridership to soar — if the political will exists to make it happen.
"The reality is that the technology to do something different exists, and the market demand to do something different exists," he said. "The pressure for us, on the public purse …is there."
Mix of public funding, private sector
The hub-and-spoke system would cost much more than current transit systems, but even without changes, the cost of the current system will rise with the price of gas, Prentice said.
He imagines a system funded through a mix of public funding — for the major bus routes — and private-sector companies running the smaller routes.
Taxpayer subsidies for Winnipeg's current transit system total about $50 million a year, he pointed out, and it's a system many people refuse to use.
"Every time a passenger gets on a bus and puts a loonie in the fare box, there's a …taxpayer right behind them putting a loonie in the fare box," he said.
"Half of the revenues to run the bus system come from the taxpayer, and that's a very large burden for the city the size of Winnipeg."
Prentice will present a paper on the system at a transportation conference in Fredericton in May.