Huge majority wants province to restore Winnipeg transit funding, poll suggests

Four out of five Winnipeg voters want Manitoba to resume paying for half of the city's transit costs that aren't covered by fares, a poll commissioned by the union representing Winnipeg Transit workers suggests.

Province froze funding at 2016 level, leaving city with inflationary cost hikes

The results of a poll commissioned by the Amalgamated Transit Union suggest a huge majority of Winnipeg taxpayers believe the province should resume paying for half of the city's transit costs that aren't covered by fares. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Four out of five Winnipeg voters want Manitoba to resume paying for half of the city's transit costs that aren't covered by fares, a poll commissioned by the union representing Winnipeg Transit workers suggests.

Seventy-nine per cent of Winnipeg adults want the provincial government to restore what's known at city hall as the 50-50 transit-funding deal, suggests a Probe Research poll conducted at the behest of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505.

The deal used to see the city and province split all Winnipeg Transit operating costs that were not recouped by fare revenue. That ended in 2017, when Manitoba froze its funding for Winnipeg at 2016 levels as part of an effort to reduce the provincial deficit, leaving the city responsible for inflationary cost increases.

In response to the provincial funding freeze, city council raised transit fares to $2.95 this year and contemplated — but abandoned — plans to cut back on transit routes.

The transit union asked Probe to ask a lengthy question about the funding freeze.

"For decades, the provincial government shared the operating costs of Winnipeg Transit with the city. Last year, the provincial government scaled back this 50-50 funding deal in order to help balance the provincial budget," respondents heard as a preamble before being asked, "How important or unimportant is it for you that the provincial government split the cost of transit with Winnipeg?"

Widespread support

Amalgamated Transit Union president Aleem Chaudhary says the widespread support for the 50-50 funding deal should be instructive for Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservative government.

"The province has to step up and be able to restore the funding," he said in a telephone interview on Tuesday. "We also have the carbon tax coming in, and we should be able to put the funding back and … increase it."

Winnipeg Transit is subject to the provincial carbon tax that's expected to add $1.2 million a year to transit's operating costs.

The Pallister government has no plans to restore the 50-50 funding deal, Municipal Relations Minister Jeff Wharton suggested.  ​

"Our government is a supporter of public transit and we continue to provide significant funding that is sustainable. The prior provincial funding agreement was open-ended and unsustainable," Wharton said in a statement.

Waverley West councillor-elect Janice Lukes, who was acclaimed on Sept. 18, said she understands the province's financial position, given the mounting provincial debt.

Still, Winnipeggers are frustrated with transit service and want to see the system improve, she says.

"Our transit service is very challenged. We need more buses, we need more frequency and we need more space on buses," she said.

Probe Research asked its transit-funding question of 600 adults between June 5 and 19 as part of its quarterly omnibus poll. The results have a margin of error of four per cent.