Manitoba

'Inconsistent' transit service makes for stressful introduction to university life, first-year student says

Eric Yeung just began his first year at the University of Manitoba and already has his sights set on majoring in economics, but one thing that remains uncertain is whether transit service will reliably get the 17-year-old to class on time, if at all.

'Pass up' season in full swing as crowded buses to U of M create scheduling headaches for students

Eric Yeung says his first two weeks at the University of Manitoba have been marked by the stress of not getting to class on time due to transit service being unreliable. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Eric Yeung just began his first year at the University of Manitoba and already has his sights set on majoring in economics, but one thing that remains uncertain is whether transit service will reliably get the 17-year-old to class on time.

"It's been really inconsistent," said Yeung. "For a couple days it's been perfectly fine, then a couple days it's not showing up at all or been really late."

Despite living less than 10 kilometres from the University of Manitoba in River Heights, near Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue, Yeung gives himself an hour of buffer time to get to class from the time he leaves home.

But in the first two weeks of the fall semester, he said he was left waiting for the route 78 Waverley bus for over an hour on several occasions, forcing him to miss two morning classes and half of another.

Eric Yeung, 17, waits at a Winnipeg Transit stop for the 78 bus Monday morning in River Heights. It was only a few minutes late, but Yeung says the real issue is that it's hard to anticipate when the service will be reliable and when it won't. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"I waited an hour, my class started, two or three buses should've come by now, and none of them came," Yeung said, describing one instance. "Finally, 10 minutes after class started, my first bus arrived."

He characterized the experience as "infuriating" on social media and said it's added stress during a time that is already anxiety-inducing for many students who are figuring out how to navigate university life.

'This is unacceptable'

"I'm half way done my second week of my first year at university, and [singlehandedly] the transit has made this the most infuriating, frustrating, and soul sucking time of my life," he wrote.

"For the past week I spend anywhere from 2-5 hours either waiting or on the bus going from school to work to home....  This is unacceptable."

University of Manitoba Students' Union President Jakob Sanderson takes transit to and from school and work every day, and he relates to Yeung.

Sanderson said 43 per cent of Winnipeg Transit buses are late and he feels service has become less dependable.

UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said the U of M student population is comprised of 14,000 transit users and the school is the single largest transit customer in the city. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

One way that issue presents itself to students is in the form of "pass ups," when buses running on university routes at high-demand hours become so packed that they have to pass by bus stops and leave people behind due to a lack of space.

'Pass up season is real'

According to data from the city from 2011 to present day, the majority of pass ups occur during the fall months and the number of pass ups has been gradually on the rise for the past eight years.

The routes most affected include routes 75, 162 and 160, all of which serve the U of M Fort Garry campus.

Review city data on pass ups: 

"Pass up season is real," said Sanderson.

"Service is inconsistent. What we need to have is more investment in routes, more funding from the province, which eliminated 50-50 funding on transit, so that we're able to accomplish that."

The so-called 50-50 transit cost-sharing split used to exist between the city and province before the Pallister government ended the practice.

Strike fears

A poll in October 2018 suggested most Manitobans wanted that model reinstated, something Sanderson echoed Monday when UMSU announced its support for the union representing transit workers.

The Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505, which represents 1,400 bus drivers, mechanics and other workers, has been embroiled in unfruitful contract negotiations with the city that have dragged on since earlier this year and sown fears of a potential strike.

The schedule for the 36 route suggests that bus, a main route for U of M students that runs from The Maples south to the Fort Garry campus, is late 29 per cent of the time.

The University of Manitoba Students' Union announced Monday it is standing with the union that represents transit employees in the ongoing negotiations between that union and the city. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Meanwhile route 78, which Yeung takes to university, is late 41 per cent of the time. City data also suggests buses to Yeung's stop are late 24 per cent of the time.

Review city data on what bus routes are on time, early and late:

CBC News obtained an internal scheduling document that shows transit operators are expected to adhere to tight turn arounds from the time they arrive at the U of M campus and when they're supposed to be back on the road hitting other stops.

For route 36, the schedule suggests operators have between zero and three minutes of layover time between when they're scheduled to drop students off at the U of M and leave. 

Union wants 'realistic' schedules

That's been a sticking point for the union during negotiations, which says it wants increased funding for transit, a more "realistic" schedule, and breaks for drivers worked into scheduling considerations.

An ATU spokesperson said it's clear transit service isn't sufficient and riders and workers bear the brunt of that.

Yeung heads to class after catching a bus to the U of M Fort Garry campus Monday. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"We want to see increased funding to deliver on transit resources to better [serve] Winnipeggers, while ensuring that schedules are realistic," the spokesperson said via email.

"We also want to see a five-minute recovery time, so that if the operator can utilize just a moment to refocus or to simply go to the bathroom, in order to stay focused on the road ahead." 

Negotiations between the union and city remain at a stand still and the threat of a strike or lockout is weighing on the minds of students like Yeung.

"It's very concerning," he said. 

"I'm not sure how I'm going to get to class if that does come to happen, so obviously I'm going to have to look into more expensive ways to get to school, which isn't optimal for a first-year student."

Consistency of 'utmost importance'

City of Winnipeg spokesperson Alissa Clark said consistency is of the "utmost importance to Winnipeg Transit" and will see "significant improvements" with the completion of Stage 2 of the Southwest Transitway in April. That transitway will be serviced by 28 new accordion buses.

She said service levels for the fall are calculated in April or May based on student enrolment numbers from the previous year. Because enrolment fluctuates yearly, Transit officials rejig schedules each fall as needed.

There's also been major construction in the area, including on Dafoe Road on campus that began as students resumed coursework this month, which has affected service as well, said Clark.

"Service can be inconsistent in the first few weeks of classes because so many things are in flux," she said in an email.

"University students are figuring out how often and for how long they need to be on campus, and general traffic levels also tend to be higher."

She said service levels settle down in October, once some of those variables are sorted out.

First-year U of M student Eric Yeung says inconsistent Winnipeg Transit service has made him miss two and a half classes in the first two weeks of school, and he's not alone. 2:36

About the Author

Bryce Hoye

Reporter

Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. He is the Prairie rep for OutCBC. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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