Transit pitches route and operation cuts to meet budget targets

Winnipeg Transit management delivered some stark options to councillors to meet budget targets for the next four years, including cutting routes.

Service reductions, staff cuts and fewer bus replacements part of proposed cost savings

Winnipeg Transit could face an $18.6-million shortfall if budget constraints remain in place. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Fewer transit routes, shorter operating hours and fewer new buses are among the stark options on the table for Winnipeg Transit as the service considers ways to meet budget targets for the next four years.

In the midst of new four-year budget-planning sessions, senior Winnipeg Transit managers say the service is "facing substantial reductions in order to meet targets" that would require spending increases of no more than two per cent, per year.

Provincial support for transit has been frozen at 2016 levels, putting further stress on the budget.

In 2020 alone, transit faces a shortfall of approximately $5.8 million for operations and $12.8 million for capital expenses.

On Wednesday, transit managers told told city council's public works committee "significant cuts to service" are the only way to meet the proposed two-per-cent cap on spending hikes.

Those reductions would include eliminating the Downtown Spirit and DART service routes, ending weekday and Saturday services across the city at 12:15 a.m. instead of 1:38 a.m., and ending peak–hour service earlier on express routes.

Service could be cut to feeder routes on weekends. Transit  could discontinue its text program, where passengers receive messages about arrival times. Transit may also stop printing up paper route schedules, which are sent to 75 locations across the city, including seniors groups and libraries.

Council's infrastructure and public works committee heard tough budget options from Winnipeg Transit. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

Transit finance manager Laurie Fisher also outlined proposals to eliminate community grants to Winnipeg Harvest, the Green Action Centre and the Santa Bus. 

Despite the need to hire new drivers immediately to cover operations related to the soon-to-be-completed Southwest Transitway, there would be significant cuts to staff at transit over the four–year budget cycle.

The attrition would start with an overall loss of seven full–time staff in 2020, rising to 104 positions by 2023.

To head of an infrastructure deficit, senior staff propose cutting the number of bus replacements from 250 to 180 buses over six years. 

Transit director Greg Ewankiw said cutting the bus-replacement program may save capital dollars, but did run the risk of increased costs for maintenance and the need to pull buses off the road to do the repairs.

The strain on the transit budget didn't include an allowance for a low–income bus pass, despite city council agreeing to fund the program.

Infrastructure renewal and public works chair Matt Allard (St. Boniface) asked transit staff what kind of fare increase would be needed to eliminate the need for such extensive cuts to services and equipment.

He was told a 25-cent fare hike would raise approximately $6 million a year, enough to prevent only one year of cutbacks in the four-year plan.

"At this point I'm going to keep an open mind. It is just the beginning of the process. I think the public service has done their work in terms of offering their best submission they can, with the parameters they have been given, Allard said.

This is the first year departments are presenting potential changes before a more complete draft budget is made public.

The city has to pass a final budget in March.


  • An earlier version of this story said proposed reductions include eliminating the Downtown Spirit and DASH service routes. In fact, the proposed reductions would eliminate the Downtown Spirit and DART service routes.
    Nov 13, 2019 7:01 PM CT