Time to move forward on rapid transit

“In our interaction with people and businesses downtown, a quality rapid transit system is understood as being a sign of an impressive, sustainable, thriving city. The majority of cities understand this to be true.”

The Osborne Rapid Transit bus station. We're on our way but oh so slowly!   Photo by Brendan Gow.
The Osborne Rapid Transit bus station. We’re on our way but oh so slowly! Photo by Brendan Gow.
Stefano Grande Downtown
Stefano Grande

Implementing rapid transit should be a fundamental goal and top priority for our city, as it has an incredible potential to positively affect our future and the downtown. As a city, we have discussed rapid transit for more than four decades but the implementation of this important piece of city infrastructure has been held up due to political change and inert community engagement. Now is the time to move our ambitious plans for rapid transit forward and it begins with critical dialogue and in-depth discussion about the action steps required. If not now, when? It’s time to move forward.

We have seen the influence and transformative effects of a quality transit system and in our interaction with people and businesses downtown, it is understood as being a sign of a progressive, sustainable and thriving city. The majority of cities in the world understand this to be true.

So how do other cities fund rapid transit? User fees seldom fund rapid transit, as developers, businesses and all levels of government are usually ready to produce the needed financial support. The truth is everyone in our city cares about transportation and implementation of rapid transit is not the far-off reality we seem to believe.

Many cities partially fund rapid transit through an innovative taxation tool called Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and a powerful property tax generator called Transit-Oriented Development (TOD).

Low-density development in new suburban areas requires new and additional city services that come with a price tag, whereas TOD generates more taxes for the city and incurs lower operation costs. For example, a one-acre TOD neighbourhood generates 70 per cent more taxes than a one-acre development site composed of low-rise multiple/single family homes such as are zoned in the suburbs. With more and more multiple/single family houses being built on the outskirts of the city centre, we need to immediately make TOD our top priority.

Using this approach, municipal governments can more readily afford to deliver essential transit services that are cost-effective to the taxpayer. That is, the additional taxes generated by speeding up this construction and in this way redirecting market developments, can cover construction charges and at very little long-term cost to the city. This presents a better way to fund rapid transit than our recent 25-cent transit fare hike, which hurts existing transit users and ridership and further weakens public support, and endangers the partnership needed for the province and city to move forward.

Therefore, it is absolutely critical that we focus our efforts on aligning future development with rapid transit, as opposed to continued suburban sprawl. This alignment is essential in attracting the right private sector developers and, by putting more commercial and other activity within reach, will also help in attracting more young people and empty nesters to live downtown.

Graham Mall, Main Street, Henderson, Pembina, McPhillips, Osborne, Corydon and the area around the University of Manitoba are all communities in which simple rezoning and alignment of rapid transit could lead to more vibrant neighbourhoods.

Under this TOD approach, our city will become more environmentally sustainable, vibrant and pedestrian-oriented, components that are compulsory in the actualization of our vision for our city and our downtown.

Stefano Grande is executive director of Downtown Winnipeg BIZ.

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