Run regular Winnipeg Transit service on New Year's Eve, says stranded passenger

A Winnipeg woman says Winnipeg Transit needs to rethink its New Year's Eve service after she says she and several others were stranded for about an hour in frigid temperatures waiting for a bus.

Kim Rotheny says she waited more than an hour after drivers said her bus was coming shortly

Winnipeg Transit offered free rides New Year's Eve but one rider says a gap in their schedule left her stranded and cold for more than an hour. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

A local woman says Winnipeg Transit needs to rethink the gap in its New Year's Eve service after she and several others were stranded for about an hour in frigid temperatures waiting for a bus.

Kim Rothney says she and others waited for a bus for more than an hour before finding a payphone and calling her parents for help.

"I'm so glad my parents were in town last night," she said.

Her night started at a restaurant in St. Boniface and her friend, who lives in south Winnipeg, dropped her off at the stop across from the Centennial Concert Hall to catch the 11 bus, which runs down Portage Avenue from City Hall.

She got there at about 12:20 a.m. and checked her phone. The electronic Winnipeg Transit schedules told her another bus wouldn't be coming for several hours.

"Nothing was coming until 5 a.m. and I knew that couldn't be right."

After a quick online search confirmed buses were running out of downtown until 1:30 a.m. on New Year's Eve, she walked to the Garry Street stop to wait, along with several other groups of people.

"Everyone was confused and not sure what was going on," said Rothney. "There were no signs at the bus stop. 'Cause when they do special days for Canada Day or the Red River Ex, they'll put up special notices."

By this time, the battery in her phone was dead thanks to the cold, which was about -30 with the windchill.

"So the next bus that pulled up, I asked the driver, 'Are the 11s running?' And he said 'Oh yeah, everything's running until 1:30 so keep waiting, they'll be here in no time."

Freezing cold

Three more buses passed and several people started walking home. Rothney got on a bus to Portage Place because she was "freezing cold," she said.

"My phone was completely dead, the sign at Portage Place was completely black and the really warm bus shelter there gets locked at night I guess. So I couldn't get to the payphone in there."

When she talked to the next bus driver, she told him she had been waiting for an 11 for more than an hour. He told her to keep waiting and that he couldn't help her.

"By this time I'm freezing cold, desperate for a washroom."

"I regularly use Winnipeg Transit. I don't have a car. And I have faith in them. When they say they're going to run service until 1:30, I would assume, and clearly I'm wrong and I will never make this mistake again, that they're going to run a regular service every 15 minutes.- Kim Rothney

Rothney eventually found a payphone across the street and called her parents for help at about 1:30 a.m. While she was waiting for her parents to pick her up, the 11 showed up at about 1:45 a.m., she said.

"I felt so stupid. As soon as I got home I charged my phone real quick and I did a quick google search. Of course, they don't have anything on Facebook, which is my main source of social media so I couldn't get anything there, their Twitter didn't mention anything about it."

When she searched online, she found information on the Winnipeg Transit website that stated buses were running on a Sunday schedule, meaning most routes were ending at 12:15 a.m. However, many routes also had another bus running 75-90 minutes later at about 1:30 a.m.

Rothney called that gap in service "ridiculous."

"So that leaves people in a 90 minute to two hour lurch, and it's like -30 outside. It was absolutely ridiculous."

She added party goers at the Forks would not have had time to catch a bus after the fireworks.

"I took the bus last year on New Year's Eve and it was fine. But I think they just used the same ads and they didn't include any new information on the radio or on TV … And the bus drivers didn't even know either.

"I regularly use Winnipeg Transit. I don't have a car. And I have faith in them. When they say they're going to run service until 1:30, I would assume, and clearly I'm wrong and I will never make this mistake again, that they're going to run a regular service every 15 minutes."

Free ride

Winnipeg Transit's website confirms free rides from 7 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. New Year's Eve.

"This year, New Year's Eve falls on a Sunday, therefore Winnipeg Transit will be operating on a Sunday schedule, with the last buses scheduled to leave downtown at approximately 12:15 a.m.," states the site.

"In order to accommodate New Year's Eve celebrations, additional buses have been scheduled to depart downtown at approximately 1:30 a.m. As this is extra service beyond our scheduled service, these last trips will not be available using our online TransitTOOLS."

The site then offers a number of downloadable documents outlining when the special buses will pass their stops.

"We understand that this Transit user's experience using the annual New Year's Eve Free Ride service didn't go as expected and we apologize for any inconvenience," said a spokesperson for Winnipeg Transit, who said riders were informed through a news release and social media postings.

The spokesperson said additional signage is only placed when there are route changes on special event days. "Since there were no reroutes in place for New Year's Eve, additional signage was not posted.

"Winnipeg Transit's goal is to provide safe and reliable transit service. We appreciate feedback from the public and as part of each New Year's Eve Free Ride event, we review the success and where improvements can be made for future service."

Aleem Chaudhary, president of the transit union, said they heard from several riders about the confusion around New Year's Eve service, adding drivers are "often not kept in the loop" around special schedule changes.

"Moving forward, we strongly believe that any short term changes should be shared with both drivers and the general public."

About the Author

Elisha Dacey

Journalist

Elisha Dacey is a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast. Reach her at elisha.dacey@cbc.ca.