Winnipeg mayor eyes Ottawa's low-income bus pass program

Winnipeg's mayor says he has talked to his counterpart in Ottawa as Canada's capital prepares to vote on a proposed program that would see substantial single-fare transit discounts for low-income households.

Mayor Brian Bowman has talked to counterpart about program being voted on in Ottawa

Mayor Brian Bowman says he talked to Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson over the weekend about that city's low-income bus pass program. (Meaghan Ketcheson/CBC)

Winnipeg's mayor says he has talked to his counterpart in Ottawa as Canada's capital prepares to vote on a proposed program that would see substantial single-fare transit discounts for low-income households.

Mayor Brian Bowman said he was in Ottawa over the weekend and chatted with Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson about the program, which was approved by Ottawa's transit commission on Monday.

The program would allow low-income households to pay single fares at a reduced price of $1.75 rather than the standard $3.40. It will be voted on at Ottawa's Dec. 13 city council meeting.

"I know Coun. Cindy Gilroy has long advocated for [low-income fare discounts] and I support her efforts to explore that as part of the operational review," Bowman told Information Radio on Tuesday. "I think especially when we're looking at transit fare increases, now is the time, as we do an operational review, to consider that."

Ottawa already has a monthly bus pass aimed at low-income riders, which was introduced last year. The pass, for single people who earn $24,600 or less and families with incomes of $45,712 or less, costs half the price of a regular pass.

Substantial fare hikes

Bowman revealed a draft city budget in November that included substantial Winnipeg Transit fare hikes to make up an estimated $8.3 million shortfall after the province pulled out of its 50/50 transit operation funding agreement.

The proposed transit-fare hikes will take effect on Jan. 1 and will generate an additional $5.7 million for the city next year, budget documents project.

A full cash fare on a Winnipeg Transit bus will increase 25 cents to $2.95, while a full fare monthly bus pass will go up about $10 to $100.10.

Winnipeg Transit also plans to reduce service on as many as 22 bus routes in June, after the provincial budget is tabled. In the meantime, Bowman will continue to lobby the Progressive Conservative government to restore its old transit-funding commitment.

The proposed fare hikes and possible reduction of transit routes prompted newcomer, Indigenous and disability advocacy groups to unite in opposition at a news conference a few days later. 

Seid Ahmed, refugee response co-ordinator with the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations, said it isn't fair to expect the city's low-income earners — many of whom rely on Winnipeg Transit as their only form of transportation — to cover the drop in revenue.

The group called on the city and provincial governments to look at providing a subsidized program for low-income riders.

Bowman said he is listening and hopes the province will continue to meet with him and city council about the issue.

"We've actually had good dialogue. You know, these aren't easy issues for anybody … but I think the best way to deal with these issues is to keep the lines of communication open, and they are, and I'm grateful for that."

Operational review

Within the draft budget is a proposed operational review that will look at ways to make transit more efficient and reliable, Bowman said. 

"One of the things I do think is helpful and I do think will help us build a more sustainable, reliable transit network going forward is an operational review, so we can really take a look at, 'What is the funding reality for us? How do we build a transit system that is reliable, safe and that supports a growing city?'

"We need to make sure that we're building that system for the future, right now. That's obviously something I'm pretty passionate about, building that system and making sure it's improving. I think there's room to improve in the network."

Bowman also clarified that the proposed route changes do not mean dropping routes altogether; rather, they will reduce service on some routes during non-peak hours.

"We're certainly not looking at reducing service levels during periods where pass-ups are occurring," Bowman said, referring to buses that drive past a stop because they're already full.

"What we're doing is we're taking a critical look at rationalizing the service levels on routes that are running on off-peak hours. These are weekends and these are holidays."


Elisha Dacey


Elisha Dacey was a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast.

With files from Bartley Kives and Information Radio