My name is Joseph Kornelsen and I am speaking on behalf of Functional Transit Winnipeg.

Functional Transit Winnipeg is a local non-profit group of citizens. Our mission is to advocate for a viable public transit system that is frequent, accessible and affordable.

I am here today to urge this committee to recommend increasing funding to Winnipeg Transit’s operations in order to increase bus frequency throughout the city. Additionally, I want to urge the City to set aside money to commission a study on how a high frequency network could be implemented throughout Winnipeg.

This is our third year urging City Council to address the issues of lagging service. And this year it is more important than ever that this committee address our recommendations.

In this budget we are seeing some positive steps from the City of Winnipeg. It’s nice to see investment in buses in this year’s budget. It is lower than was projected in previous years, but we understand that last year a higher than usual investment in buses was made. If any committee members can confirm that last year $32 million was spent on transit buses that would be appreciated.

I want to thank Councillors Lukes, Gilroy, Browaty and Allard for taking the time to meet with us and listening to the concerns we have about transit in Winnipeg.

On behalf of Functional Transit Winnipeg, I would like to thank Councillor Janice Lukes and Transit Director Dave Wardrop for the opportunity to meet and present our recommendations for the allocation of the federal infrastructure fund earlier this year. We strongly favoured purchasing more buses.

We are also pleased to see the expansion of the transit maintenance garage. Investments in improving our transit capacity is critical and this is a good step forward for transit in Winnipeg.

But these investments are directed toward capital and we need to be investing in operating our transit network.

In this budget the most recent ridership data showed a fall in ridership. In 2015, ridership fell by 3%. This is terrible news. But why is this happening?

The most obvious answer is that Winnipeg Transit was running too close to maximum capacity. Our Bus Spare ratio in 2014 was 11% – the lowest in the country. The CCPA in their alternative budget pointed out that Winnipeg Transit may be operating “too close to the bone.” And in September 2015 we discovered just how close to the bone we were running.

This was transit at a crisis point. Who knows how many riders were lost permanently because the bus wasn’t just late – it actually wasn’t coming at all.

But this story goes back further.

Between 2007 and 2014, total kilometers and total bus hours operated by Winnipeg Transit rose by 11% while over that same time period ridership rose by 23%. Winnipeggers were showing their willingness to use our transit network. But at a certain point we were bound to hit our breaking point. 2015 might be that point. These aren’t just numbers. Picture these stats in terms of crowded buses or in terms of over-worked bus schedules.

Investing in more buses with a greater level of service is critical right now in Winnipeg. But we are still lagging. Winnipeg Transit’s total operating expenditures minus the line for contribution to capital and the portion for the Southwest Corridor, increased by only 2.4%. When you control for inflation and city growth, this is actually a decrease in spending on transit by .4%.

Additionally, looking at the Mill Rate Support line, if you control for the same capital expenditures, namely contribution to capital and the transfer to the Southwest Corridor, you will find that Mill Rate Support this year has also declined slightly over the last year in nominal dollar terms.

In fact, in front of this committee meeting today is a recommendation to extend service into the Bridgewater neighbourhood. This is positive, but where are the additional resources to account for this expansion?

We are seeing the monetary requirements of the Southwest Corridor taking a bite out of Transit’s operating budget. It must be made abundantly clear, investments in corridors is not service. And Transit is first and foremost a service. A true rapid transit network must include frequent and reliable service and this is done through contributions toward Transit’s operating budget.

Frequent networks have been created in other cities. Minneapolis, the next biggest city in our region has been implementing a frequent network and they are doing it with regular bus routes.  Houston has done the same thing. This makes a lot of sense for Winnipeg.

As you know, Functional Transit was critical of the Southwest Corridor for being inaccessible. We beg you to not let it also do to our transit network what has been seen in so many other cities – don’t let regular service be devoured to serve this corridor.

The key to building a world-class transit network is frequent, accessible and affordable service. This is supported by research and if you have ever taken transit, you know it is intuitive as well.

Quoting the Ontario Professional Planners Institute:

Key considerations for transit service include frequency of service, customer service, affordability and safety. The environment, which incorporates street design, transit access points and neighbourhood design, must be supportive of transit service. The success of the transit provided is otherwise limited.

End quote

Once again, I would like to acknowledge the positives steps the city is taking in purchasing additional buses to ensure that we don’t reach a crisis point again like we did in 2015. But I also want to be very clear that Winnipeg requires higher frequency service across the entire city. This is the key to creating a transit network that is the envy of cities across North America.

This budget is an opportunity to take those steps. Real transit improvement doesn’t come from massive one-time capital investments, it comes from a commitment to improving transit from this committee and this council through meaningful annual increases to the mill rate support for transit. It is not happening in this budget, but it is in your power to change that.

We urge you to increase the City’s mill rate support for transit operations in this budget in order to increase bus frequency throughout the city. Additionally, I want to urge the City to set aside money to commission a study on how a high frequency network could be implemented throughout the city.

Speech to Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works – 2017 budget