By Belinda Ojeda
Defining newcomers as a general group is not easy. We are a mosaic of cultures, languages, backgrounds, and traditions. Beyond our many differences, however, there are some elements that unequivocally characterize newcomers. We are grateful to be here, we love our new home, and we work hard no matter what. We value the opportunities that we get, and we make the most of them… unless something prevents us from it. For example, not being able to get to work or school.
Most of us don’t come with a lot of money – in the case of refugees, they may come with no money at all. It usually takes us a few months to find our first job, so many of us can’t afford a car for a while. All of us depend on public transit for work, school, and everyday activities. As a result, the availability of public transit (or lack thereof) will dictate many aspects of our lives as newcomers. We can’t live in an underserviced neighbourhood; we can’t work or study in an area we can’t easily reach by bus. Often times, our first jobs involve night shifts, which complicate matters as some areas have limited bus service in the evening. Even socializing, having hobbies, or accessing health services will revolve around where we can feasibly go.
Our current transit system sometimes complicates navigating the city, if your start or end point is not downtown. For example, one of my first jobs in Winnipeg involved taking shifts as a substitute office assistant all over the city. More than once I had to reject shifts because it was impossible to reach the venue on time by transit. Taking a taxi there and back would have cost me almost my entire income from that shift. Because of bus schedules and routes, we often need to take two or three buses to reach our destination, and wait a while for a connection. This is the reality faced by many transit users in Winnipeg; some people could forego job opportunities simply for lack of transportation options.
As newcomers, we adapt to our new home easily. We learn to love the snow and the cold after just one winter; we become die-hard Jets fans after one season. We’ve also learned to work around public transit limitations, and make the most of it. However, I am concerned about what the fare increase will mean for all low-income Winnipeggers, especially without a transit subsidy. Will people’s access to transit be limited as a result – and, will this mean limited access to work opportunities, education, hobbies, or everyday activities? What will happen to families living on minimum wage? Winnipeg is a vibrant city, with lots to offer in every neighbourhood. Every city resident should be able to access everything it has to offer, without transportation limitations.