Winnipeg Public Transportation: Making the Perfect the Enemy of the Good

Blog, Transportation, Steve Lafleur

Public transportation used to be an afterthought in mid-sized North American cities. There now appears to be a consensus that public transportation is important for moving people around the core of relatively dense cities. Unfortunately, rather than focusing on practical improvement, many politicians and transit advocates are trying to rush too far in the other direction.

Take Winnipeg, for example. The city is considering building the second leg of its rapid transit system as a light rail train at an estimated cost of $50 million per kilometer. This seems low when considering that Calgary’s last four LRT extensions cost between $42.9-$129.9 million, but let’s assume that it is correct. The total estimated cost of the extension would be $700 million for 14km. While that would certainly increase transit capacity and convenience for those who live and work along those 14 km of track, this is only a small percentage of the population.

For the price of that 14km of track the city could purchase 1400 hybrid buses, nearly triple the existing fleet. More realistically, the city could add 400 buses to double the frequency on every route in the city, and build the second rapid transit leg as a bus rapid transit route for $275 million, thus saving $225 million. This would eliminate long waits for riders all over the city, and probably convince some drivers that transit is a viable alternative.

The fact that the above would still far exceed Winnipeg’s short term transit requirements underscores just how impractical it would be to build LRT in Winnipeg. Practical improvement may not be as politically marketable, but they would do much more to improve service for the average rider than spending massive amounts of money to service a small part of the city.