Winnipeg suburbs want better bus service, candidates hear
Council candidates share frustration with voters about unreliable bus service in St. Norbert-Seine River
All five candidates running in the new ward of St. Norbert-Seine River — an area where residents say public transit is sparse outside commuting hours — are running on platforms to improve bus service.
"Everyone is campaigning about transit because it's the hot topic issue," said Chris Davis, a first-time candidate running in the southern, largely suburban ward.
Aside from the infrequency of buses on evenings and weekends, candidates told CBC that residents, especially those in St. Norbert, have complained about meandering bus routes that seem to stop at every corner.
"A 10-minute car ride should not take over an hour to get there by bus," Davis said, who lives in St. Norbert.
Low confidence in Winnipeg Transit
While suburbs have a reputation for being car-dependent, candidate Markus Chambers said there is pent-up demand for more transit among many business types who would take the bus if it were more convenient.
"Transit has been a real issue," Chambers said at his campaign office off Pembina Highway.
"The buses are too small. So if you're coming from downtown, you won't get a seat probably until just after Bishop Grandin. As a result, it's a long ride."
Chambers, a local volunteer and long-time provincial public servant who lives in River Park South, said confidence in Winnipeg Transit is lower than it ought to be.
Two ways he would improve it if elected Oct. 24 are converting the fleet to all-electric buses to improve Winnipeg Transit's environment record and adding more feeder buses to cut down on the number of 'milk run' routes.
Nancy Cooke, a small business owner, is a former volunteer with the Progressive Conservatives and has worked for the last two years as a special assistant to the infrastructure minister. She said the lack of service in St. Vital has been taxing on her own family.
Most mornings, the council candidate is campaigning at bus stops in St. Norbert-Seine River, sharing stories with riders about sparse service outside morning and evening rush hour.
"My son would work downtown at the Y as a lifeguard, that was his first job," Cooke said. "But to get to a three-hour shift in downtown Winnipeg, in the middle of the day on a Saturday, it wasn't something that was doable or feasible."
Cooke said passengers have shared stories of being cut off not just from work but from the ability to shop — complaining especially about bad service to the new outlet mall on Sterling Lyon Parkway and Ikea.
She is calling for "tweaks" to Winnipeg Transit, such as designing more park-and-rides, to "make this system work for everyone."
Master plan in the works
The city is currently reviewing submissions by bidders to create a Winnipeg Transit master plan.
Once it's completed, the document should chart the course of Winnipeg Transit for the next 25 years, taking into account conventional bus service, Handi-Transit and rapid transit as well as infrastructure needs.
The work involves combining two existing plans and a number of consultations with the public and stakeholders. The final plan is due in January 2020.
Candidate Glenn Churchill, a transportation engineer, said he hopes the master plan will address concerns residents have in south Winnipeg.
He said one of the features that make him unique in the five-way race in St. Norbert-Seine River is his experience working on Winnipeg infrastructure projects.
"There's millions of dollars being spent on it and right now there's nobody on council that understands, has technical knowledge on those things," he said.
Suburban but not an island
Nikolas Joyal, 22, is one of the youngest candidates running to represent a ward on council.
He would like to see more centralized transit hubs around the city, faster feeder bus-routes and expansion of rapid transit to benefit families decades from now.
"I don't feel like the city is thinking long term," he said. "There's no youth voice on council. I'm hoping to bring that voice."
The political studies student says while St. Norbert-Seine River is a "very suburban ward," it is also highly connected with the rest of Winnipeg and may not be as insular as perhaps people think it is.
The new ward was created after the old South Winnipeg-St. Norbert ward was essentially cut in half. St. Norbert-Seine River includes neighbourhoods like River Park South, St. Vital Perimeter South and Fort Richmond.
The ward has 47,765 residents, according to 2016 census data.