As fuel prices soar, rural Manitoba commuters say they need more ways to get to work

People who commute from rural communities to work in Winnipeg are calling on the province to come up with more alternatives to driving alone, as they face the pressure of high fuel costs.

With bus service gone, 'it's the carpool or the buddy or beg somebody,' says commuter

Shauna Chanas started carpooling a few weeks ago when gas prices spiked, but said some of her relatives don't have that option and are struggling to make ends meet. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Rural Manitobans who commute for work say the province needs to come up with more alternatives to driving alone, as they face the pressure of high fuel costs.

"The price of gas is ridiculous," said Shauna Chanas, a teacher from Selkirk who started carpooling to Beausejour — a roughly 35-kilometre drive — a few weeks ago, when prices surged at the pump. 

"I don't know how people can afford this. Everybody's struggling."

Chanas meets a co-worker at a little parking lot next to an outdoor hockey rink in the rural municipality of St. Clements. More free parking lots like that would help her family save money, she said.

"My sister is working remotely," said Chanas. "They asked her to come back to working downtown and she's really, really struggling now that she has to worry about paying for gas and parking. It's really stressful."

Sandy Chiborak uses the same parking lot, near the intersection of highways 44 and 59. She drives from Selkirk to meet her son, who comes in from Winnipeg. Together, they commute to their jobs in Beausejour.

Sandy Chiborak carpools with her son, who travels daily from Winnipeg. She wishes there were more transit options for people in communities outside the city. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Chiborak misses the bus that used to run from Selkirk to Winnipeg.

"I used that in the '80s when I worked in Winnipeg," she said. 

"Now there's really nothing. It's the carpool or the buddy or beg somebody."

Chiborak wishes the government would subsidize more transit options between communities.

The RM of St. Clements said it's looking into more options to make people's commutes greener and cheaper, such as rural bus service, but that would take support from other municipalities and the province.

"We'll try to see if we can find out where we can encourage people to … park and ride at the outskirts of the city of Winnipeg, and then use transit," said St. Clements chief administrative officer Deepak Joshi.

St. Clements CAO Deepak Joshi said the rural municipality is looking into sustainable transportation options, from carpooling to local bus service to park-and-ride services at bus stops on the outskirts of Winnipeg. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

Right now, Winnipeg Transit only offers service as far as Riverbend to the north, and to St. Norbert in the south. 

In a statement, the province said the Ministry of Municipal Relations is looking at "regional approaches to shared infrastructure investment … which could include transit."

Manitoba's Green Transportation Strategy was released a year ago, but is still under review.

In a separate statement, Environment Minister Jeff Wharton said his department is focusing on installing charging stations so commuters can use electric vehicles, which have been identified as "a key opportunity to reduce transportation emissions."

But transportation expert Babak Mehran said that's not enough.

Electric vehicles "will not solve the congestion problem or access to public transit transportation issues," said Mehran, an associate professor in engineering at the University of Manitoba.

"And we should note that EVs are extremely expensive, not affordable for most of the people living in the province."

Transportation expert Babak Mehran said while rural transit systems require a lot of planning and investment, other solutions include smaller buses with on-demand service. (Submitted by Babak Mehran)

Mehran researches transportation models, and said a rural transit network would take a lot of planning and money.

But other solutions could roll out more quickly, such as smaller buses or passenger vans that could offer service on demand, he said.

"When a service is on-demand, people don't have to wait outside in cold weather — they can be picked up at their door," he said. 

"The smaller capacity will make it more justifiable than a bus. It doesn't need to travel empty all the time."

Chanas uses this parking lot in the RM of St. Clements, which offers a free place for people to park and carpool. She said she feels lucky she has someone she can carpool with. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

But until those strategies are developed, rural commuters are left to figure it out for themselves.

"You have to go to work to be able to feed yourself," said Chanas. "But how do you afford that gas?"

She said she feels lucky to have a co-worker with a similar schedule to share part of the daily ride, and the cost.

The high cost of commuting

8 days ago
Duration 2:26
Transportation has become a major expense now that gas prices are through the roof. That's a big challenge for people who commute downtown from communities outside the city.


Emily Brass is a journalist at CBC Manitoba and host of the podcast Type Taboo: Diary of a New Diabetic. She's also worked for CBC in Montreal, Toronto, St. John's, Victoria and London, U.K.


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