Winnipeg Transit slated for cuts and improvements during the same year
U-Pass will disappear, low-income pass will debut; some routes will be scaled back, while new routes added
Winnipeg Transit is heading into a major overhaul this year, as the city's budget calls for a mix of cutbacks and service improvements.
The city's spending plan for 2020, tabled Friday, calls for Winnipeg Transit to get rid of its university student pass and reduce service on 14 routes this year.
It also calls for an expansion of service in the southwestern quadrant of the city once the entire length of the Southwest Transitway opens in April, and for the introduction of a low-income bus pass in May.
Council public works chair Matt Allard (St. Boniface), the city councillor responsible for Winnipeg Transit, said he believes transit service will be improved on the whole.
"We want to make transit better and I think we are making transit better," Allard said at city hall, describing the 14 bus routes facing cuts as the "lowest performing" in the transit system — and the U-Pass program for students as one that no longer fits.
The city plans to cut the U-Pass — a bus pass that provided students with unlimited transit access during the school year, which they paid for through university fees — and instead offer students a post-secondary bus pass that is 20 per cent cheaper than a full-fare pass.
The University of Manitoba Students Union panned the cut.
"What we've seen is a program that has seen students lead the way on climate change, by making sure they're reducing their emissions and improving things all across Winnipeg," UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said at city hall.
"This is a successful program and if the city doesn't want to fight for it, it's disregarding students and it's disregarding the environment."
The city also invited eligible university students to apply for its new low-income bus pass, which will offer 30 per cent discounts when it's rolled out on May 1.
That discount will increase to 40 per cent in 2021 and 50 per cent in 2022.
The city also plans to offer free transit service to kids under 12 in 2021.
This year, Winnipeg Transit is hiring more drivers to staff the expanded transit service in southwest Winnipeg that will start in mid-April. That's when the Southwest Transitway will allow buses to run on a dedicated corridor between Queen Elizabeth Way, near The Forks, and the University of Manitoba's Fort Garry campus.
Buses will run frequently along the transitway, while new feeder routes will connect to seven new transit stations along the route. The city has purchased 28 articulated buses to meet the passenger demand from the new service.
That expansion, however, was not enough to mitigate criticism from the activist group Functional Transit, which panned shorter hours and reduced weekend service for 14 routes, including St. Boniface-Wolseley and Crescentwood.
"Mayor [Brian] Bowman and city council have ignored the demands of Winnipeggers by proposing further austerity on a transit system that is already cut to the bone," Functional Transit spokesperson Derek Koop said in a statement.