Winnipeg mayor warns of fare hikes, cuts to 59 transit routes and 120 layoffs

Mayor Brian Bowman is warning of the potential for widespread Winnipeg Transit cuts a week before he presents a draft version of the city's budget for 2018.

Brian Bowman blames province for cuts contemplated in Winnipeg budget, coming next week

Mayor Brian Bowman is warning of widespread transit cuts in the city budget next week. (CBC)

Mayor Brian Bowman is warning of the potential for widespread Winnipeg Transit cuts a week before he presents a draft version of the city's budget for 2018.

The mayor issued a statement Wednesday morning stating Winnipeg Transit may lay off up to 120 drivers, eliminate service on 59 bus routes and hike transit fares by as much as 25 cents to deal with a $10-million funding shortfall he blames on the province.

Premier Brian Pallister's Progressive Conservative government announced earlier this year it will no longer cover half of Winnipeg Transit's operating costs and effectively froze city funding at 2016 levels.

"As the city finalizes its preliminary 2018 budget, we are grappling with ways to address the significant budget gap the provincial decision has caused," Bowman said in his statement. 

The mayor will table the first draft of the 2018 budget on Nov. 22. While the city can raise property taxes to cover the transit shortfall, Bowman has committed to limiting property tax hikes to 2.33 per cent a year.

Bowman also urged the province to endorse the city's request for additional federal dollars to pay for Winnipeg road funding.

The mayor issued his statement before the November council meeting. After it wound up, he urged the province to reverse its decision on transit funding and cover half of Winnipeg Transit's costs in 2018.

While Bowman declined to state precisely how deep the Winnipeg Transit cuts will be when he tables the city's budget next week, saying "you'll have to wait until the budget is tabled," the mayor did say the job cuts, route eliminations and fare hikes he outlined in the morning are equal to the $10 million the province no longer plans to offer the city for transit.

"I think it's important to frame what that would entail if it were solely absorbed within the transit budget," Bowman said, hinting the actual cuts next week won't be as severe.

"We will continue to work to mitigate the full impact, but there will be an impact, and that will be laid out in the budget," he said. "You're asking me for information in a budget that hasn't been tabled yet." 

The mayor also dismissed the idea the city should not proceed with a $300,000 pilot project that would place Wi-Fi on up to 12 buses.

"You're talking about different funding sources," the mayor said, before suggesting reporters ask the province why it ended its transit-funding deal with the city.

Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler said Bowman should not speak to his government about transit funding through the media.

"I always feel that those conversations between two levels of government, you don't have that debate in the media or publicly — social media, for that matter — there are politicians that like to do all their debating on social media and I am probably not one of those," Schuler said.

"Certainly we are listening and we know he'll be meeting with our government. We meet on a regular basis; the premier and the mayor meet regularly, and they have a great opportunity to sit down and talk about these issues, and we are prepared to listen."

Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton went further, calling the mayor's public plea "unfortunate." Wharton said Winnipeg has the latitude to make its own decisions about how to spend the money it receives from the province.

  "They're receiving the highest level of funding ever, compared to other jurisdictions in Canada, so the mayor has to take responsibility for how they spend that money," he said outside his office at the Manitoba Legislative Building.

The official opposition, however, said the Tories are giving the city no choice but to cut transit or some other service.

"It's going to hurt people who rely on the bus for transportation. But it's also going to discourage those people who are maybe on the verge of starting to take the bus to work," NDP leader Wab Kinew said.

  "We're in a time where we're starting to fight climate change and we should be doing everything possible to encourage those people who are on the bubble."

North Kildonan Coun. Jeff Browaty, on the other hand, said Winnipeg ought to cover the transit-funding shortfall by cancelling all spending related to rapid-transit planning and reopening Portage & Main.

"When you can't get basic transit service right, why are we spending $500 million to shave a couple of minutes off particular routes and not the transit service overall?" he asked.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.

With files from Sean Kavanagh