‘A Band-Aid on a symptom’: Winnipeg’s proposed transit safety plan not enough, advocate says

Winnipeg’s proposed budget includes a plan to boost ridership on city buses with a new transit security team, but one transit advocate is skeptical the idea goes far enough.

Brian Pincott with Functional Transit Winnipeg calls the multi-million-dollar plan announced  in the preliminary budget “a Band-Aid on a symptom.”

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“Safety on transit is a symptom of larger societal issues that we all know, things like the drug problem that we have, the homelessness that we have,” Pincott tells Global News.

“The other thing for us to remember is that for every person that feels safer because a security or a police officer is there, there is somebody who feels less safe.”

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Click to play video: 'Questions over city’s transit plan'

Questions over city’s transit plan

The city’s preliminary budget, tabled Wednesday, vows to restore bus ridership numbers to pre-pandemic levels with a 12.4 per cent increase in transit’s operating budget over last year.

That includes $5 million to launch what the city is calling a “major transit safety team initiative,” although details like whether the team will be armed or have the power to arrest have been scarce.

Pincott says the money could be better spent on addressing the drug crisis, homelessness and getting the city’s 25-year Transit Master Plan up and running faster.

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Ultimately, he says, bus safety will improve when more people opt for transit.

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“The transit master plan identifies clearly why people aren’t using it — it doesn’t work for people — it doesn’t get people from point A to point B,” he said.

In an email to Global News Mayor Scott Gillingham said addressing homelessness, addictions and mental health challenges are among his top priorities in 2023.

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg transit users react to mayor’s plans to improve system'

Winnipeg transit users react to mayor’s plans to improve system

He pointed to items in the preliminary budget including $1 million to create additional 24/7 safe spaces for unsheltered and at-risk people.

On top of having de-escalation training, Gillingham has said he would like to the see the transit safety team “working side-by-side with local agencies to help connect people with the support services they need, whether that is housing, mental health counselling, or addictions treatment.”

He also pointed out the safety team initiative is part of a broader goal to attract and retain transit drivers, something that’s needed to restore service to pre-pandemic levels.

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Chris Scott with the Amalgamated Transit Union says increasing violence on city buses has led to a number of drivers leaving Winnipeg Transit to work in different cities.

The union told Global News Winnipeg had lost a total of 150 drivers during an interview in November

Scott says he’s optimistic to see funding for the transit security force in the preliminary budget.

“Anything that improves the service in general,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Winnipeg’s mayor responds to questions following the 2023 budget'

Winnipeg’s mayor responds to questions following the 2023 budget

“Safety is one aspect to bring people back to the service from the pandemic — especially with the rise in violence that has been seen recently.”

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Numbers from the city show Winnipeg Transit ridership began to rise last year after a pandemic slump, but still haven’t fully recovered.

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Both Pincott and Scott say they’re pleased to see the preliminary budget put money aside for electric buses and the North End transit garage.

“These are baby steps in the path that we need to take to to begin to improve the transit system,” Pincott said.

— with files from Rosanna Hempel 

Click to play video: 'City councillors and transit'

City councillors and transit

Are Winnipeg’s mayor and council bus riders?

With transit highlighted as a major issue in the city’s proposed 2023 budget, 680 CJOB’s The Start reached out to Winnipeg’s mayor and council to find out about their personal bus ridership. Here’s what the civic leaders who responded had to say about taking the bus.

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Coun. Matt Allard (St. Boniface) has been vocal about his support for Winnipeg Transit and continues to bus to work most days of the week. Allard’s office said he’s so committed to using transit that he cancelled his council parking benefit.

Coun. Jeff Browaty (North Kildonan) says he takes the bus a little more than once a month, usually about 14-15 times a year.

Coun. Markus Chambers (St. Norbert – Seine River) says he typically rides the bus a couple times a year, but is a more frequent transit user when he’s already downtown and going from meeting to meeting.

Coun. Ross Eadie (Mynarski) says he uses the bus twice or three times a month on average, but continues to pay for a monthly bus pass. Eadie said he rode the bus at least 10 times a week prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but changes to his schedule have made it less convenient.

Mayor Scott Gillingham‘s office says he has a Peggo transit card and rides the bus a few times a month — whether it’s to get to work, attend events, or run errands. The mayor rode the bus more regularly during his time as a city councillor, when he had a less hectic schedule.

Coun. Cindy Gilroy (Daniel McIntyre) says she uses transit several times a week, and takes the bus to and from City Hall when she’s not working within her consituency.

Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverely West) says she rides the bus a couple of times a month.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) says he takes the bus several times per year.

Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights – Fort Garry) says he rides the bus a couple of times a month.

Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge – East Fort Garry) says she prefers to walk when she’s able to.

Coun. Devi Sharma (Old Kildonan) says she takes transit periodically, but her schedule is not conducive to riding the bus as much as she would like.

Coun. Vivian Santos (Point Douglas) says she currently does not ride transit. She says it’s too challenging with two young children attending different schools.

— with files from Samuel Thompson and Lauren McNabb


&© 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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