The debate over Winnipeg's rapid transit system is heating up, as a poll released one day before a key council vote suggests public support for expanding the system is split.

A Probe Research Inc. poll commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press asked residents if they want the rapid transit expansion, known as Phase 2, to be funded and if there should be a public vote on the matter.

Results of the poll, released Tuesday, indicate that 71 per cent of respondents believe they should have a chance to decide if the the city should spend $590 million on the proposed expansion.

The poll also found that 42 per cent of respondents said yes to Phase 2, 47 per cent said no, and 11 per cent were unsure.

"That idea of the people actually having a say in October, I think, is really something that people are supportive of, no matter where they are in the city," said Probe vice-president Curtis Brown.

Probe Research surveyed a random and representative sampling of 603 Winnipeg adults by phone between June 10 and 19. The margin of error is within four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Council to vote tomorrow

Councillors will have to decide on Wednesday whether to extend the existing Southwest Transitway, which runs from downtown to Jubilee Avenue, by 7.6 kilometres to the University of Manitoba.

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty says he will present a motion on Wednesday calling on the city to hold a referendum on rapid transit at the same time as the Oct. 22 civic election.

"I think the people of Winnipeg want to have an opportunity to have a good, open public debate about the future of our transportation," Browaty said Tuesday.

Browaty has been calling for a referendum in recent weeks, while other councillors have proposed replacing the current bus rapid transit (BRT) system with light rail.

"What about the opportunities of going down and looking at abandoned railways that are going to become eventually available?" Browaty said.

Mike Vogiaziakis, one of the seven people running for mayor in this fall's election, denounced the rapid transit plan at a press conference  Tuesday and supported the idea of a referendum.

"We are allowing a mayor who's leaving office to make a major decision, and councillors who are leaving office to make a major decision. This is bad business," Vogiaziakis told reporters.

Meanwhile, the ongoing debate has some bus riders confused and concerned about the future of rapid transit.

"I don't know if I'd vote for either. Honestly, I don't know," said Steven Rumpli, as he waited for a bus at the Osborne rapid transit station on Tuesday.

Said Jayanne English, "It is taking too long. I've been here for almost a decade and a half, and there should have been quick transit down to the university, which has almost 30,000 students."

"I think they're confused at city hall about what it's supposed to be and what it's supposed to look like!" she added with a laugh.