(This past fall semester, I took a course in the University of Winnipeg’s Environmental/Urban Studies department entitled ‘Winnipeg and the Environment: A Case Study Approach. One assignment involved all class members to post and discuss on a group blog (that will/has been deleted with the termination of the course. This is one of my posts; originally dated December 11, 2006..)
In the recent few weeks I’ve enjoyed some time (maybe too much time, as it is exam time after all!) out on the town, taking in some of Winnipeg’s night life. While always a fun time, one complaint always emerges if I’m aiming to go home after the night is over is that I often have to structure my evening around Winnipeg Transit’s rather limited schedule or end up having to pay the cab fare (which, while not a lot in the whole scheme of things, is still considerably more than transit fare (especially if one is in possession of a bus pass anyways). Those lucky enough to live within walking distance of their favourite watering holes may not be familiar with this dilemma, but us (inner-ring) suburbanites often face this on the weekends.
The last route 11 northbound bus home from downtown every night other than Sundays leaves the University of Winnipeg at 1:30 a.m. This means that if I’m on Osborne Street or elsewhere downtown, I have to leave shortly after 1 to ensure I make it to Portage Ave to catch the bus. And the 11 is probably the best late night route in the city, too. It has always amazed me, in this era of strict drinking-and-driving laws and the social stigma attached to doing so, that in Winnipeg, the public service in place to provide an alternative and relatively cheap form of transportation stops running BEFORE the proverbial “last call” (section 72(3) of the Manitoba Liquor Control Act).
Other cities have actively pursued a system of “night buses” that operate on a limited schedule and on many fewer routes than normal day-time service, giving those of us who have reason to be up late at night/early in the morning (whether for entertainment, transportation to or from work, etc) options. Toronto operates it’s Blue Nights, and Montreal has 20 night-time routes. Vancouver has recently reinstated its NightBus service after considerable public pressure by transit users.
While Winnipeg may not have the entertainment and active hubs of nightlife like those cities have, nor is our population huge, but from a rider’s perspective, offering the opportunity to take the bus at night is nonetheless one way Winnipeg Transit could broaden its services and appeal and make Winnipeg a safer place to be in the night time. And the environmental implications are there, too — people on a bus nearly always means that there’s fewer need for cars on the road.
I envision a few simple routes emenating from downtown, using smaller buses if desired: Henderson, Regent, a Main-Leila-McPhillips loop, Portage, St. Mary’s, Pembina, Corydon (or Grant). If nothing else, these routes can make a very long walk much shorter, or a potentially expensive cab ride much cheaper and shorter. Night buses will not end up “making” Transit any money at all, but are essential public services even supposed to make money for the governments that provide them? It obviously can not be a hole to sink public monies into, but the issue of providing night buses does bring up the whole issue of the provision of a public service as exactly that, a public service that exists only (and happily) to provide that service. Transit as a whole should be seen the same as public works or emergency service infrastructure; otherwise it will forever take a back seat to the almighty automobile.
I’ll end with a lyric by one of Winnipeg’s most inspired and honest (and darn-good) song-writers, Greg MacPherson. From his song “Genuinely Frozen”:
I’ve been away / I’ve seen other cities where the bus runs all night long.
I have too, and it is something that Winnipeg should start looking at.