The Better Voter Series: Rapid transit debate moves at a snail’s pace

The plan that should have been decided upon long ago lingers on

Picture, if you will, Winnipeg with a functioning, successful rapid transit system. To me, the idea seems laughable.

Ever since the ‘50s, when electric trolley costs were speeding beyond diesel, Winnipeg has debated rapid transit and what form of system to proceed with.

Ideas have ranged from a subway in the ‘50s, a monorail in the ‘60s and light rail transit (LRT) in the ‘70s and ‘80s. The present debate seems to view bus rapid transit (BRT) as the big ticket item.

Former mayor Glen Murray had a comprehensible plan for rapid transit back in 2003.

Everything was set to go, the shovels were ready to hit the ground, and all we needed was federal money.

When it was secured, Murray ditched municipal politics for an unsuccessful federal career. He was sure that his handpicked man, Dan Vandal, would coast to victory in the 2004 mayoral by-election, until a business man who owned the Goldeyes arrived.

He was going to make this city the envy of Canada, and he won soundly on election night.

Six years down the road Winnipeg is, in the eyes of many, looking worse.

However, Katz has been boosted by work done by Murray. The funding secured by Murray for a rapid transit system was supposed to be protected, but this funding was breached, ensuring rapid transit was thrown off the pages until 2008.

Surprisingly, after pressure from citizen groups like the Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition, Bikes Unlimited and the Winnipeg Citizens’ Coalition, all three levels of government pledged to fund the first phase of a rapid transit corridor from the downtown to Jubilee Avenue.
Phase two would come shortly after, as the provincial and federal governments came up with their share of the money.

After the announcement, many thought the drawn-out issue of rapid transit was finally finished and we could move onto other issues.

However, such hopes would not last long as Katz used divide and conquer-style politics to manipulate the citizens to support a light rapid transit (LRT) system for phase two.

If phase two were turned into an LRT system, the project would make little sense.

For instance, consider living in St. Norbert (though anywhere beyond downtown will do): you would have to take a transit bus to Bison Drive, wait for a train, get on that train (which would only run at 40 km/h), get off at Jubilee Avenue, somehow cross Pembina Highway to Jubilee station, and then catch a bus to downtown.

This makes absolutely no sense, yet our council blindly backed Katz’s plan, thinking this would put Winnipeg on the map.

It will, but only as the most embarrassing mistake in Winnipeg’s history.

Let us also not forget that Katz wants to use money for BRT to fund other things, which puts our federal funding in peril as stimulus funds draw to a close and the money has a deadline.

Katz continues to be quiet on the issue of rapid transit, making very few announcements about it during the municipal campaign thus far. He has spent far more time slamming his contender, Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

Wasylycia-Leis has promised to have phase one (from Jubilee to the University of Manitoba) completed and phase two (from downtown to Transcona) to be under construction by the end of her first term as mayor.

This issue should have been addressed years ago, yet we’ll continue to debate it as long as Katz and his council run the city.

Speaking as a member of the young generation of municipal voters, we’re all tired of mass transit systems being proposed but not acted upon.

Andrew Podolecki is a first-year student at the University of Winnipeg.

Published in Volume 65, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 7, 2010)

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