Ellen Smirl Public Works Presentation November 28, 2019

Dear Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure and Public Works,

Thank you for having me, and for opening up the consultations to the public. I am a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a charitable research institute.

Community-based groups on the front lines in the inner city prioritized transit and transportation for the 2018 State of the Inner City Report: Green Light Go: Improving Transportation Equity in Winnipeg[i].  In this community-based research funded by the United Way, Assiniboine Credit union and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, we consulted with many different organizations and those experiencing poverty and we heard loud and clear that transit in Winnipeg is often a barrier to social inclusion.  Transit was also listed as a  top priority in the last municipal election.

Service cuts to transit should not be on the table in balancing the budget. Firstly, decreased service results in decreased ridership, which reduces revenue which in turn justifies more cuts. Winnipeggers are less likely to ride the bus now than they were 20 years ago according to Statistics Canada Data[ii]. As our city and the surrounding areas continue to grow, expecting to hit the 1 million mark by 2035. Unless we meaningfully invest in transit and active transportation networks, we will end up with massive congestion. I have lived in major cities with massive congestion problems, we do not want to go down that route.

A study that examined the determinants of transit ridership across 25 North American cities found that investments in public transport operations, especially bus services, is a major factor to prevent decline in transit ridership or sustain and increase it.[iii] This study emphasized that fare revenues cannot support such investments without deterring ridership, and thus additional revenue sources are required.

The second reason why we should not be cutting services is that there are many people who depend on transit. Many minimum wage workers are employed in shift work and it can be challenging to get to work during off-peak hours. During my research on transportation equity last year, I spoke with many low-wage workers who said they struggled to get their jobs on time. One man I spoke to even got fired as a consequence of the unreliability of bus service, which frequently resulted in being late to work. Many seniors rely on taking the bus, and given the high costs of social isolation, transportation can be a lifeline in reducing loneliness and improving overall quality of life.

We also need to be thinking big picture about addressing poverty through upstream initiatives like the low-income bus pass. We applaud the City for taking the steps to implement the pass. However the projected operating costs are not accounted for within the 2020 proposed budget. Funding for the operating costs of the program needs to be identified. Is the City going to continue as planned to implement the Low Income Bus Pass?

During my research I spoke with a young person who didn’t have the money to take the bus after an operation and so did not attend their post-operation appointments. Poor and socially marginalized people are going to be hit the hardest by a failure to implement a low income bus pass as well as the proposed service cuts. Access to affordable and convenient transit can affect employment rates and in turn poverty rates, health outcomes, food security, kids being able to get to school and many other aspects of life.

Finally, 32% of Winnipeg’s Green House Gas emissions come from residential vehicles. The challenge in reducing these emissions is to get people out of their cars and onto buses, bikes or their feet.  The proposed budget is not conducive in mitigating this challenge. 

While budgets are often premised as being value-neutral, we need to remind ourselves that our budgets are a reflection of what we value. On Wednesday there was a parade down Winnipeg streets, a parade that the City will pay out some of the costs for. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t spend money on celebrations, but rather, that when it’s decided that something is important, our budget lines reflect that. The proposed budget says that we value car ridership more than sustainable development, particularly relating to active transportation and transit.

The Multi-Year Budget (2020 to 2023) Council Briefing repeatedly notes that Winnipeg is struggling with a structural deficit; has exceptional population growth, the lowest property tax and spending per capita; and yet nowhere in their conclusions is increased taxation even considered. Tax is not a four letter word, taxes are what we pay to have basic services, decent services and to fight climate change. CCPA’s Alternative Municipal Budget Imagine a Winnipeg 2018[iv] presents recommendations on the revenue side to avoid the severe cuts being tabled today:

  • Winnipeg’s property taxes were frozen from 1998 – 2013 and then increases were all dedicated to road infrastructure and Rapid Transit. Winnipeg’s property taxes, at $1,700 on average, are lower than all major Western Canadian Cities. 
    • In order to pay for needed services in 2018, the AMB increases property taxes 5 percentage points above the 2.33% to 7.33%.
    • We recommend you increase the property tax rate by 5 percentage points more than the 2.33% proposed increase (to 7.33%). The additional increase will generate approximately $30 million (based on 2019 information).
    • Business tax generated $17 million less in real dollars in 2017 compared to 2001, despite the fact that Winnipeg is consistently found to be one of the lowest-cost municipalities in North America to do business. AMB 2018 increased the business tax rate 5% to 5.4% so businesses would pay their fair share for City infrastructure & services.
    • The business tax went down again in 2019, this time to 4.97%. We once again suggest that it go up 5% (of 4.97%) to 5.22%. This increase would generate approximately $2.9 million.
    • Other revenue ideas include a fee on surface parking lots and increasing the impact fee. Those two changes could bring in $34M and $5.5M respectively more/year.

In addition to exploring revenue-raising strategies, we require a shift in thinking about what is important. If we continue to invest in making it free and convenient for people to drive while simultaneously under-funding transit, we will not achieve a sustainable transportation system in Winnipeg. Drastic re-thinking about the amount of money that we dedicate towards roads is required.

In closing, I hope to see greater commitment in the future from the Province however the fact remains that the City of Winnipeg is growing and how we invest our money today, and into the future will determine what kind of transportation network emerges. I hope that for the efficiency of movement, the community’s health and well-being and for the sake of the planet, we choose to budget our money in a sustainable, socially just and green manner.

Thank you for your time.

Ellen Smirl


Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-MB
Ph: 204-927-3209
Unit 301-583 Ellice Ave
Winnipeg MB R2W 3N5
Treaty 1 territory, Original Lands of the Anishinaabeg, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota, and Dene peoples, and Homeland of the Métis Nation

[i] https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/state-inner-city-report-2018

[ii] https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/winnipeg-declining-bus-ridership-statistics-canada-1.4429825

[iii] Boisjoly, G. E. Grisé, M. Maguire, M. Veillette, R. Deboosere, E. Berrebi, A. El-Geneidy. 2018. Transportation Research Part A 116 (2018): 434-445.

[iv] https://www.policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/Manitoba%20Office/2018/06/Alt%20Municipal%20Budget%202018.pdf