Every day I drive to work.
I get in my little pickup truck, fire up the 4.0l V6 engine, and spend 40 minutes expelling greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere and swearing under my breath at the boneheads I share the road with.
I once was a bus rider. Even after I moved to the suburbs, I would make the 10 minute walk to the bus stop and ride the pumpkin downtown, passing the time reading a magazine or The Metro (RIP) and not destroying the environment.
What changed? Service was cut back. One of the two direct routes downtown was permanently diverted to a new greenfield suburb, and the number of buses on the remaining express route was reduced. Even before this, though, it was difficult because of poor off-peak service.
My schedule was not always a consistent 9-5. If I was stuck at work and missed that last express bus at 6:00, it could be a bit of an ordeal to get home. I remember one day when I just missed that last express bus, so I ran — RAN — to Graham Avenue to catch that after hours bus that winds its way though half of south Winnipeg before getting to my neighbourhood, and I missed that one by seconds as well. A hour and 45 minutes later, plus a 10 minute walk, I was finally back at home.
That may sound like a silly first world problem, but the point is I had choices, and one of those was $10 parking in the underground Portage Place parkade. No more worrying about missing my bus, and really not that much more money out of my pocket.
I kept taking the bus for a while, but shortly after the bus service to our community was cut back, I made the switch.
Some people don’t have the same choices.
They rely on the bus, they are on a tight budget, and for them the abnormal $0.25 increase in bus fare will hurt.
The increase is one of two measures being taken by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman to stop the financial bleeding of Winnipeg Transit, which is suffering from low ridership. The other measure involves reduced service, mostly in off-peak hours.
The knee-jerk reaction to increase fares to increase revenues does not always work. I’ll give a simple example: I used to buy 2 beers at every Jets game, back when beer was just under $10 a pop. Now that it’s over $10 I only get 1. Yes they make $1 more per beer, but they earn $10 less revenue each game that I attend. Sure, I represent only 1/15,000th of the demand curve for beer at MTS Centre, but with every price increase there will be others who will decide that the price point is just a bit too high.
While some people have no option but to take the bus, and the impact on them is rightly getting attention in the press and on social media, there are many others who do it by choice. Even if service were to remain the same, some of these users will make the switch to driving simply because the extra $0.50 per day is the point at which they decide the cost savings no longer measure up to the hassle of relying on transit.
But service is not remaining the same. It’s getting worse. There is no doubt that off-peak bus routes are money losers, but they are part of the package. They make transit workable for everybody, including those who only take an evening or weekend bus 1 day out of 100. If they don’t have that 1 bus it’s a big problem.
We have yet to see the details of proposed changes, but Winnipeg Transit is on thin ice here. Complaints about transit service problems are already one of the favourite topics on my twitter feed, and if that’s any indication they don’t have much goodwill to squander. The combination of significantly higher fares and less reliable evening service could cause a large enough exodus of users that Transit could find itself losing even more money than before. This whole exercise would be counter-productive, and would accelerate the downward spiral of decreasing revenue and reduced ridership.
The fact that Transit has been losing riders, even as Winnipeg’s population is increasing and fares have been nudging up a mere nickle a year, should tip off Mayor Brian Bowman that there are significant systemic problems with Transit. Ones that jacking up fares and chopping routes will not fix.