Invest in Roads Not Transit

The jury is still out in Winnipeg: should governments be spending money on roads or more public transit? Well, a new policy brief from the Frontier Centre show that the […]
Published on April 13, 2024

The jury is still out in Winnipeg: should governments be spending money on roads or more public transit? Well, a new policy brief from the Frontier Centre show that the sooner governments abandon their bias against cars the better.

A recent University of Toronto paper by Jeff Allen and Steven Farber examines work access as measured in travel time to get to work in 10 of the largest census metropolitan areas (CMAs) in Canada. It measures “30-minute job access” or how many jobs can be reached within a 30-minute drive.

Unsurprisingly, a car provides access to many multiples of the jobs available within a 30-minute travel radius on transit.

In Winnipeg, about 144,400 residents with vehicles have “30-minute” access to their jobs, whereas only 33,300 residents have access via public transit. This means that 4.3 (430%) times as many jobs can be accessed with a car compared to transit.

And one needs to consider Winnipeg has better 30-minute work access to public transit in Canada than most of the 10 cities studied. Only Montreal and Vancouver do better.

Transit in Montreal performs the best with automobiles providing 30-minute access to about 3 times as many jobs as transit. On the other end, automobiles provide access to almost 10 times as many jobs within a 30-minute trip in Edmonton.

Unfortunately for public transit migration trends are away from larger metropolitan areas that can best support public transit. In particular, the disastrously destructive Covid lockdowns permanently damaged downtown economies by accelerating the telecommuting and work-from-home phenomena.

Many politicians and policy makers seem to be oblivious to this unintended disruption. They continue to advocate for more transit infrastructure which continues to experience falling ridership. Drastically underused bike lanes (unusable for months in winter cities) remove parking spots that are the lifeblood of downtown shops and entertainment venues.

We increasingly see deliberate reductions of speed limits to discourage automobility. And then there is the “15-minute city” craze which seeks to discourage mobility and redirect economic life to denser, self-contained, and walkable/transit oriented micro economies. It’s all part of the “war on cars” mentality that has gripped the urban design and climate chattering class types who constantly try to force Canadians into choices they are resisting for good reason.

Good intentions aside, trying to force more Winnipeggers onto public transit serving declining downtown job markets is not the answer. Despite having one of the better designed transit systems in Canada, Winnipeg still is dealing with the unrelenting fact that cars offer superior mobility and access to multiple orders of more jobs within a 30-minute travel time. Never mind the security issues on public buses and horror stories of attacks on bus drivers and issues with aggressive passengers. More transit money doesn’t solve the security problem.

It remains politically incorrect to say – cars remain king.

Rather than force people onto buses (or worse – expensive Light Rail), the smartest policy for maximizing broad economic growth and opportunity would see politicians focusing on upgrading or extending existing road infrastructure. In Winnipeg, for example, expanding Route 90 and finishing the Chief Peguis Trail are obvious positives to expand the work mobility which lubricates the job economy.

This “30-minute work access” data is a wakeup call to the many policy makers who remain fixated on anti-car policies that don’t work. They are going against the grain of real people making real choices who benefit from the opportunities enabled by the superior mobility of the automobile.


Joseph Quesnel is Senior Research Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


Related Items:

Read: Multiple More Jobs Accessible by Automobile than By Transit, April 13, 2024.

Read: Building 21st Century Transit Systems For Canadian Cities, (52 pages) March 12, 2024.


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