What would fare-free transit look like? Winnipeg city councillor wants to know

The City of Winnipeg is mulling a future that has a simplified free transit system.

On Tuesday, Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos brought forward a motion to develop a report on simplified and fare-free transit system for all Winnipeggers.

“This report is the first step needed to respond to the needs of people who have lost their jobs and are struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said in a news release on Wednesday.  

“With a simplified transit fare and a fare-free system we can better meet the needs of all Winnipeggers, especially seniors and families living on a fixed income.”

Santos says the pandemic has contributed to decreased transit ridership. At the end of 2020, ridership was hovering around 59 per cent, she said.

Point Douglas Coun. Vivian Santos put forward the motion at a Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan community committee on Tuesday and will be brought to a standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works next. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

“Without a functioning transit system that is affordable and accessible, transportation will continue to be a barrier for economic and social opportunities. A simplified and fare-free system will increase ridership on public transportation and reduce the impacts of climate change and help reduce income inequality gaps for residents,” Santos said.

She says other jurisdictions that have free or simpler transit systems have proven benefits.

That includes lower transit administrative costs, shorter travel times, increased ridership, improved mobility equity, improved community safety and reductions in traffic congestion and pollution.

When asked about the motion at a press conference on Wednesday, Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman said he hadn’t read it yet.

“There’s a lot of work that’s gone on recently,” Bowman said, referring to making transit more accessible for Manitobans, including developing a low-income transit pass and waiving fares for children under 11.

“With respect to additional things that we can do for transit riders within the confines of balanced-budget legislation, I’ll look at motions as they come forward.”

Santos said the motion passed unanimously through the Lord Selkirk-West Kildonan community committee on Tuesday and will be sent to the city’s standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works.

CBC News has reached out to Santos for more information.