Low-income Winnipeg Transit pass approved despite concerns about the details

A plan to create a low-income bus pass cleared its first hurdle at city hall amid concerns Winnipeg Transit hasn't fully crunched the numbers on one of Mayor Brian Bowman's campaign pledges.

2018 campaign pledge by Mayor Bowman moves on to budget process for 2019

City council's public works committee voted Tuesday to refer a plan to create a low-income bus pass to the 2019 budget process. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

A plan to create a low-income bus pass cleared its first hurdle at city hall amid concerns Winnipeg Transit hasn't fully crunched the numbers on one of Mayor Brian Bowman's campaign pledges.

City council's public works committee voted Tuesday to make a low-income bus pass for adults part of Winnipeg's budget deliberations for 2019.

The idea was first floated by Daniel McIntyre Coun. Cindy Gilroy late in 2017, when city council approved this year's budget, which included a 25-cent Winnipeg Transit fare hike.

Bowman then committed to exploring the idea during a mayoral-campaign appearance on Oct. 1. A Winnipeg Transit report completed six weeks later pegged the cost of the program at $5.9 million a year, including lost fare revenue as well as additional service costs associated with increased demand.

On Tuesday, city council finance chair Scott Gillingham (St. James) appeared before public works committee to question transit's financial projections, ask why the plan was proceeding without provincial co-operation and while Winnipeg Transit is undergoing a system-wide review.

Committee member Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) also asked whether the plan is ready to proceed to the point where it could be implemented in 2019.

"I think the program has great merit, but there's a lot of work to be done," Sharma told the committee. 

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg spoke in support of the idea of a low-income pass, albeit with questions about the effectiveness of what transit has proposed.

The plan on the table involves, at minimum, a 50-per-cent discount on a monthly pass for low-income adults, which would work out to $50.05 a month. Cities such as Calgary employ a sliding scale based on income.

Winnipeg Transit intends to phase in the discounts over three years to reduce the impact on the city budget. It's also seeking more buses to handle increased ridership.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 also spoke in favour of the plan, but asked why Winnipeg Transit tied a request for more buses to the low-income bus pass.

Despite the concerns, Couns. Sharma, Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) and committee chair Matt Allard (St. Boniface) voted to move the plan to the budget process, adding in a requirement for more detailed council oversight.

Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) was absent from the committee on Tuesday.

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