As the city of Winnipeg and the province continue to scrap over transit funds, it is U of M students who find themselves in the crossfire.
Earlier this month, the city issued the province a demand letter threatening legal action if it failed to provide nearly $9 million for the Southwest Transitway, a more than $460 million project scheduled to be completed in 2020.
The Southwest Transitway is a roadway specifically for buses and separated from regular roads. The first stage, completed in April 2012, runs from Queen Elizabeth Way and Stradbrook to Pembina and Jubilee. The second stage, currently under construction, will extend this from downtown to southwest Winnipeg, including the U of M.
The $8.7 million allegedly being held is earmarked to widen Pembina Highway at the Jubilee underpass and to construct a transit corridor.
Bowman first said the province was looking to renegotiate funding in February after the initial estimated cost was reduced from $587 million. The city and province had agreed to pay $225 million each, with the federal government covering the remainder. The cost was reduced to $467 million in 2016.
A provincial spokesperson told media in February the provincial effort to amend the deal reflects the change in cost.
At an executive policy committee meeting this month, Bowman said he expected the agreement to be honoured “especially given the fact we’re currently building the second phase of rapid transit.”
Despite being in its second phase, there are signs that the transitway’s future is less than clear. Mayoral candidate Jenny Motkaluk recently said her platform will include possibly scrapping whatever remains on the transitway, including the stop at the U of M.
Southwest Transitway issues affect U of M students who use transit in their daily commute, especially since the introduction of the U-Pass, which provides unlimited transit services to full-time U of M students for a mandatory fee of $134.10 per term.
Julia Minarik, a first-year master’s student at the U of M, uses Winnipeg transit to commute to and from campus, and said more access to transit throughout the city is a benefit for students.
“As a student who had to sell my car, things like the transit pass have been a lifesaver,” she said.
“In our harsh winters, the last thing we need is less access. I say less access because [over time] I think transit will only become more popular in the city. People are trying to be more environmentally friendly and this is one of many ways to do that.”
UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said negotiations for the new U-Pass contract will begin this fall and are expected to last about a year.
“We believe strongly in the value of the [U-Pass] to make transportation more affordable and promote environmental sustainability,” he said.
“But it is unfair for students to have to pay for a service they cannot use due to poor bus service.”
Minarik said rapid transit will be beneficial to many Winnipeggers.
“Buses are so important for a city, especially for people like students who can’t afford other means of transport or are too scared to bike because there are no bike lanes or it’s winter half the time,” she said.
“So, in short, yeah, absolutely it’s a positive thing.”