Transit rider wants air conditioned buses before rapid transit expansion

Last week's heat wave made some city buses feel like ovens. One transit rider says the city should upgrade its fleet before spending hundreds of millions of dollars expanding rapid transit.

Two-thirds of buses in Winnipeg have no cooling system other than windows

The majority of Winnipeg Transit buses don't have air conditioning. (CBC)

Wendy Onizak says getting on a Winnipeg Transit bus last week was more like climbing into a household appliance.

"Basically an oven — a tin can that had no airflow, because you have those little windows at the top that push in. You don't get airflow through that. No air conditioning," Onizak said.

Onizak, a regular rider on the route 66 bus from Portage Avenue to Grant Avenue, said the heat was simply oppressive.

"Can you imagine how hot it was? I would have been interested to see if somebody had a thermometer or an egg. Put an egg on that vinyl seat. I sat down on that vinyl seat with my jeans, and I could feel hot that was.… It was stinking hot," she said.

Onizak said she complained to Winnipeg Transit and in an email was told the city couldn't afford to upgrade all of its approximately 600 buses with air conditioning.

"Unfortunately, City of Winnipeg Transit does not have the resources available to upgrade all of our bus fleet, over 600 buses, with air conditioning," the email said.

"Older buses, without air conditioning, are typically placed on the service with the least amount of time on the road. This will usually encompass rush hour service, approximately three hours, where all of transit's bus fleet are on the road. Unfortunately, the design of the bus's windows would have been design style when the bus was originally made. I apologize for the problems and discomfort you experienced on your ride on this day."

Cool your buses before rapid transit, rider says

The city should fix what it has before it expands rapid transit to the University of Manitoba, Onizak said.

"We are spending money on rapid transit and we can't even provide air conditioning on a regular route bus. To me, rapid transit is such for a small portion of the city. The rest of transit, it's for everybody, right?" Onizak said.

Onizak also wonders about the safety and health of Transit drivers who are required to operate some of the buses in the stifling heat.

In an email, a city spokesperson said 275 of the 619 buses in Winnipeg Transit's fleet are air conditioned and replacement of the entire fleet with air conditioned buses is expected in approximately 12 years.

Amalgamated Transit Union local 1505, the Winnipeg Transit drivers' union, said the majority of buses without cooling systems "have sufficient enough ventilation with all windows and vents open to allow for airflow through the bus."

An email from the union said fewer than 10 buses have very poor ventilation and under an agreement with the city, those units won't operate in temperatures above 28 C unless service demands require their use, and then only on shorter routes.

It is up to the driver to determine whether the heat on the bus has created an unsafe work environment, the union said.

Onizak said rapid transit expansion looks like a huge waste of money if most of its equipment is inferior and the majority of the riders have to suffer in the heat.

"I don't think it makes sense to spend all that money for a small population and leave the rest of us with buses like this," she said.