Many Winnipeggers rely on public transit as their everyday mode of transportation. Some may choose to take the bus to help the environment, while others may not have access to a car. Many other commuters may opt for the bus to avoid dealing with the stresses of parking downtown. Although public transportation is a vital component of our city’s infrastructure, some Winnipeggers struggle to afford this service.
The 2017 Fare Hike
Winnipeg’s bus fare increased dramatically last January, with the price jumping 25 cents. This major increase, the largest since 2008, greatly affected those who frequently utilize and rely on public transit. Winnipeg Transit’s regular bus fare is now $2.95 for adults and $2.45 for youth and seniors.
According to Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman, the fare increase was a result of budget cuts from the provincial government, who claimed that the province could no longer cover half of Winnipeg Transit’s operating costs as they had in previous years. As a result, the city of Winnipeg increased transit fees as well as increased parking fees $1.50 per hour, in order to avoid further increases to public transit costs.
The increased bus fare made driving a more appealing option to some commuters with access to a car, which is troubling given that the largest portion of Manitoba’s greenhouse gas emissions (~40%) come from transportation! The fare increase also created a significant barrier to transportation to those who relied upon Winnipeg Transit as their sole or primary means of transportation. As a result of the price hike in Winnipeg Transit’s bus fare, Functional Transit Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Labour Council, the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg, and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 came together to ensure that Winnipeg’s City Council understood how Winnipeggers felt about the 25 cent increase.
Proposed Low-Income Pass
The City of Winnipeg has responded by creating a plan for a low-income bus pass—which they estimate at least 13,000 adults will be eligible for—and voting to move this plan to the budget process. Those eligible for the program include adults on income assistance and those who fall below Statistics Canada’s low income cut off. The program includes, at minimum, a 50% discount on a monthly bus pass for low-income adults, which would lower the cost of a bus pass from the current monthly average of $100 to only $50 per month.
Although the new low-income bus pass appears necessary to many Winnipeggers, some city councillors have raised concerns with the introduction of this low-income option, and in particular, how the program would be financed, considering there have already been major cuts to funding for Winnipeg Transit. In order to reduce the strain of these bus passes on the city of Winnipeg’s budget, these newly affordable bus passes would be implemented gradually over the next three years. The Social Planning Council of Winnipeg and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1505 expressed concern with the upfront cost of the low-income bus pass, despite the decreased cost, advocating instead for a sliding scale linked to income when determining the price of the pass (which would depend on income level and family size).
Winnipeg Transit seeks to be accessible: the buses are wheelchair accessible, allow a place for parents with babies in strollers to sit, and many buses include bike racks. The main obstacle detracting from this service’s accessibility has, in recent years, been the price. The new low-income bus pass is a necessary addition to creating a more accessible public transportation system in Winnipeg.