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Son of Transit Woes

We roll on now (pardon the pun) with the second in a three part series by AccessWinnipeg reader Martin Green. I think an important thing to note going into this, just based on some of the comments I saw, is that whether or not people want to pay attention to our transit system its already been targeted for change. To say that our system is great is at least a little naive (The best ranking I found was 6th in the 2008 SMART Transportation Ranking Report). To say that to highlight the shortcomings is just complaining is unhelpful. Accept that in the near future huge sums of money will be spent changing our transit system and being vocal is the only method we have to make sure that money isn’t pissed away. So in the spirit of provoking healthy debate, we continue.


My last article was about what’s wrong with the bus system. I promised that this article would be about how to fix it. But I changed my mind. Yes I’m going to explain how to fix it but today I’m going to tell you WHY the bus system is a mess.

Winnipeg’s bus system is designed so that a little old lady can take the elevator down to her apartment lobby, step outside and get on a bus that will take her straight to the mall with no transfers. If that’s what you want, it’s a great system. As for busy people that need to get from point A to point B in a hurry…well, then it’s problematical. What people need to understand is the bus system works the way it does because it’s designed to certain specifications, driven by politics and bureaucracy.

How do I know this? Because a few years ago I tried to get involved in the “process”. You know, citizen’s input, “we want to hear from you” etc. I put together a plan for a bus system that works and tried to get someone to listen to me. I started with Mayor Sam Katz who spoke to me personally and referred me to Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona). “He’s working on Rapid Transit”. I phoned his office and said I had some ideas for the bus system. “Is this about Rapid Transit?” I said I wasn’t sure; I had some ideas for improving the system and I wanted someone to hear them. The woman was persistent: “Are your ideas about Rapid Transit?” I allowed as to how maybe they weren’t exactly. “Well we’re only accepting submissions on Rapid Transit at this time. You can call Winnipeg Transit regarding any other concerns”. Click. Well, I don’t want to whine about it but to make a long story short, after a year of writing letters and making phone calls, I got to sit down across the desk from a bureaucrat and say my piece. He obviously couldn’t wait to get rid of me. But before he did I got him to admit that even if my plan made perfect sense, there was no way to put it in practise. Why not? Various reasons; for instance: “We did a survey of bus riders and they don’t like transfers.” So one of the system specifications is that wherever possible, any two points in the city should be linked by a route with at most one connection. That kind of thing.

What do you expect if you design your system according to survey responses? You get a hodge podge of this and that which tries to satisfy everybody and in the end simply doesn’t work. You get the system we have in Winnipeg.

What’s the alternative? I for one would rather walk a mile to get to a bus stop if I know that a bus is going to be there in five minutes or less and that I’ll get where I’m going in half an hour. This is not a hypothetical preference. It’s based on my experience with the New York subway system. I’ve been to New York and it’s amazing. From any point in the city you can walk a mile or less to a subway station that will in turn whisk you to within a mile of wherever you want to go, usually in less than an hour. (And remember, New York is a GIGANTIC city.) They have a weekly pass that gives you unlimited travel for TWENTY DOLLARS. Like, if you’re in the Upper West Side and you don’t like the price of chopped herring, you can step on a subway and ten minutes later you’re in Spanish Harlem, where the chopped herring is seventy-five cents cheaper. Just imagine the aggravation of trying to do something like that in Winnipeg!

My plan for Winnipeg, then, is to make the buses on the surface do exactly what the trains are doing in New York’s underground. It will mean a little more walking and a lot less waiting. I’m not saying my plan will bring down the price of bagels on Selkirk Avenue, but it will definitely get people where they want to go. As for the details…stay posted for my next instalment.

Image Transportation Map of Greater Winnipeg Showing Street Car, Trolley Bus and Bus Lines (1941) Originally uploaded by Manitoba Historical Maps

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