Rapid transit activists demonstrate frustration with lack of progress

The Winnipeg Rapid Transit Coalition used musical theatre to demonstrate their frustration with the lack of progress on rapid transit in Winnipeg on Sept. 8.

A group of citizen actors playing the roles of bus passengers, Mayor Sam Katz, and city councillors Gord Steeves, Justin Swandel, and Scott Fielding acted out a scene where the passengers, traveling on a large cardboard bus, were stopped by the mayor and the councillors.

“Stop! I don’t want no transit way! Stop! Buses are so passé! Stop! I’m going to stop this halfway!” sang the actor Thomas Novak, playing Sam Katz while holding a massive stop sign in front of the cardboard bus.

The demonstration was held to mark the second anniversary of the joint announcement made by Katz and former Premier Gary Doer of the construction of Phase One of the rapid transit corridor, where the mayor later committed to completing Phase Two of the corridor by 2014.

Paul Hesse, the spokesperson for the coalition, said that they believe it’s “perfectly clear they’re not going to build it past Jubilee”.

“We’re bringing attention to that with this theatre, to show that Sam Katz is stopping it half way,” said Hesse.

Hesse explained that the building of the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium, set for completion in 2012, gives even more reason for the transit way to be extended all the way to the University of Manitoba.

“There’s lots of users there every day, but on a Bomber game day, there’s going to be 30,000 people leaving the stadium all at once using basically two roads,” said Hesse.

“You can’t do it by cars alone, you have to have a rapid transit system. Otherwise it’s going to be total chaos and gridlock.”

Novak said that he felt the city has not committed to making rapid transit a priority in Winnipeg and that there is ample funding available from the provincial and federal government, despite claims from the city that there is not enough funding to finish the project on schedule.

He pointed to the Building Canada Fund, a federal program which addresses the infrastructure needs of Canadian municipalities, provinces and territories, as being available to the city to complete the project.

“[ . . . ] I’m sure the federal government is not going to say they’re not going to build a busway for another million dollars. They’ll find the million dollars,” said Novak.

However, city councillor Justin Swandel said that the city is working diligently to bring an enhanced rapid transit system to Winnipeg, but there is simply not enough funding to do it properly.

“There is no money to build anything right now. What we’re saying is, if we’re going to build anything, let’s do it right, and every situation is different,” said Swandel.

When asked to comment on claims that the city has been indecisive on the rapid transit issue, Swandel told the Manitoban, “We didn’t switch gears on the rapid transit plan. That’s one of pieces of misinformation that’s out there.”

The coalition has also held an information session with candidates for city council and for mayor to discuss rapid transit in Winnipeg.

“Anyone who’s looking into who they should vote for city council and the mayor should ask them, ‘Will you support rapid transit?’ [and] will they get it done,” said Hesse.

With notes from Morgan Modjeski.