*More Winnipeggers are forgoing their cars, creating new attitudes and
*Take my keys, please *
FOR a long time, Mel Marginet’s car sat in her driveway, unused.
She had started biking and taking the bus to work, and was making a
conscious effort to be an active commuter.
“I knew the heavy environmental impact driving a car as your primary mode
of transportation has, and I knew (Manitoba) had a really high rate of
people driving alone,” says Marginet, who now, fittingly, works in
workplace commuter options at Green Action Centre. “To me, you can be part
of the problem or part of the solution. I didn’t want to be a person who
complained about things, then did nothing.”
And so, two years ago got rid of her car.
Marginet is part of a small but growing segment of Winnipeggers who are
ditching their cars— a move that might seem incongruous or even illogical,
depending on who you ask. Winnipeg, after all, is a city built for cars.
Many people can’t imagine living here without one. Some might be able to
picture a car-fee life during those days when the bus-scheduling gods have
smiled down upon us and everything is running on time, or during an idyllic
summertime bike commute under the city’s sun-dappled elm canopies. But when
it’s February and freezing, busing seems unappealing and biking seems
“extreme,” to borrow a word from Coun. Jeff Browaty.
Marginet, who’s in her 30s, felt similarly once upon a time. “I thought
people who biked in the city were crazy,” she says with a laugh. The more
she did it, though, the easier it became. “I actually found owning a car
more stressful,” she says. “I always had to be concerned about finding a
parking space, whether it would start or not, shovelling out the drive or,
‘Am I going to get stuck in the backlane?’” She’s seen other positive
upshots to active commuting, too. “I haven’t had a gym membership since
I’ve started commuting by bike,” she says. “If I had to go to a gym to put
in those kilometres, I wouldn’t have time.” She’s saved a pile of money,
But her biggest motivator is the environment. Transportation makes up the
biggest piece of our province’s carbon footprint pie, and she wanted to do
her part by reducing hers. Active transportation, she points out, does not
have to be all-or-none. It is also possible to develop a transportation
plan, as Marginet has, that incorporates biking, Winnipeg Transit and, yes,
even driving. “Peg City Car Co-op was the final push for me to get rid of
my car,” Marginet says. “There’s always those trips where you have to have
a car in Winnipeg; getting big, heavy bulky shopping done, or there’s just
parts of town that are impossible to get to.”
Peg City Car Co-Op is Winnipeg’s only car-sharing program. Through a
membership, people access to a car when they need it. When Peg City
launched in 2011, it had three vehicles; it has since grown to 33 vehicles,
and 1,200 members.
“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a growth in our fleet and membership of
30 per cent, and we’re continuing that trajectory,” says Philip Mikulec,
operations manager at Peg City Co-op.
“Besides the laudable environmental goals, people who are joining
car-sharing are largely doing it for economic reasons. This speaks to the
change in the way people use our service and the kind of demand we’re
seeing in our fleet. As we mature, we’re seeing more and more people
joining because I think they see the economic benefits to themselves of not
owning a car and having a reliable service they can use.”
So who uses car-sharing? At first, Peg City’s membership base was mostly
the early adopters, or “avid non-car owners.” As the idea of a car co-op
has become more accepted and mainstream, that base has widened to include
people from a wide cross section of socio-economic backgrounds. Based on
Peg City’s data, the co-op’s core membership is made up of young, highly
educated professionals who live in six-figure households. They tend to live
and work either downtown or in the Exchange District. “They’d rather not
spend $300 a month on parking alone,” Mikulec says.
Car-share users tend to be under 40, and generally have no children or one
child. “The whole industry is trying to figure out how to do better on
dealing with the child gap in car-sharing,” Mikulec says. “There are people
who like the service, but they find there are a lot of barriers, especially
if they have a child who still uses a car seat or booster seat.”
Car-sharing doesn’t just help reduce household budgets by lessening the
financial burden of car ownership. It also helps reduce carbon footprints.
Car-share vehicles tend to be newer, more efficient and better maintained.
Mikulec says industry data show that for every car-share vehicle put on the
road, 10 to 15 vehicles are shed.
Mikulec believes Winnipeg has the potential to support 100 to 200 shared
Even avid drivers are coming around on the idea of car-sharing. “We’re
still speaking the same language — it’s about cars,” Mikulec says.
“Many people who are avid car owners have positive attitudes toward what
we’re doing. There isn’t a sense of getting their back up over what we’re
And then there are people such as Tim Brandt, who hasn’t driven in 18
years. He’s a year-round cyclist, and happier for it. His wife still
drives, but the couple no longer owns a car. He’s a vocal advocate for
car-free living; he also appears in Winnipeggers Janine Tschuncky and
Kenneth George Godwin’s documentary on this subject called Carfree: Stories
from the Non-Driving Life.
Brandt, who’s in his 60s, used to drive — and professionally at that. “I
owned cars, I drove a taxi in the ’80s, I drove a courier car. It was
through reading and more and more interest in environmental issues that I
weaned myself off cars.”
Brandt biked to school with his son throughout elementary school; when he
got older, they took bike trips together. He got involved in local cycling
culture, participating in Critical Mass rides. “I was older than a lot of
the riders, but I made a lot of friends.” He started organizing car-free
events, and found it empowering. He says he hasn’t experienced a lot of
animosity between himself and motorists.
As he fell in love with biking, he fell out of love with driving. Katie
Alvord’s 2000 book Divorce your Car! Ending the Love Affair with the
Automobile was “a real eye opener” for him. Brandt’s main motivation for
living car-free is the environment. He’s concerned about society’s reliance
on cars and car culture’s environmental impact.
Making space for other modes of transportation in our car-forward city
requires a shift in thinking and priorities by individuals as well as those
who make decisions for our city.
“I have really mixed feelings about actually building infrastructure for
cycling, lanes and stuff,” Brandt says. “My No. 1 wish would be to lower
speed limits for cars just to make it safer for everyone — not just
cyclists but pedestrians and motorists, too. I feel lowering speed limits
would do a world of good and make it easier for cars and bikes to get
along. But I know that’s a tough hill. I also think that change has to
happen to help wean people off their cars, to show them they can’t just
speed around all the time.”
“My wish would be that for every infrastructure project the city does, they
place priority on the health, safety and comfort of people who are walking,
biking or using Transit ahead of personal vehicles,” Marginet says.
“Right now, we place the convenience of personal vehicles first and
everything else is just an afterthought.”
jen.zoratti(a)freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @JenZoratti
*Road repair funding cut to make up difference*
* Preliminary budget avoids huge property tax hike *
THE sky isn’t falling after all. Despite repeated threats from Mayor Brian
Bowman warning of massive tax increases or infrastructure cuts or both to
cope with a reported $40-million funding dispute with the Pallister
government, the mayor and members of his executive policy committee tabled
a preliminary 2019 budget Friday that proposes a property tax increase of
2.33 per cent — the same percentage increase for the fifth consecutive year.
Instead of the 9.4 per cent property tax increase Bowman had previously
said was possible, the budget proposes to more than make up the shortfall
from the province with a cut to its roads and sidewalk budget. While
council in September approved spending $128.4 million for 2019 on roads and
sidewalks, the budget lowers that amount to $86.4 million.
The City of Winnipeg said the effect of the property tax bump on the
average home will be about $40 (a tax bill of $1,774 for a home assessed at
“Preparing this year’s budget was complicated by ongoing uncertainty
regarding provincial government funding support to the city,” Bowman told
reporters. “I fully support the provincial government’s efforts to
eliminate its budget deficit, but I don’t believe this should be achieved
on the backs of Winnipeg property taxpayers.”
Total spending by the city will climb 3.9 per cent, to $1.22 billion — more
than double the 1.2 per cent increase between 2017 and 2018.
Aside from the reduction in the planned amount of infrastructure spending,
the 2019 preliminary budget shows little effect from city hall’s public
feuding with the Manitoba government:
• No staff layoffs;
• Police spending increases 3.4 per cent, to $301.4 million;
• Fire paramedic service spending increases 4.2 per cent, to $201.5 million;
• The business tax rate will be reduced for the fifth year in a row;
• Freezes on water and sewer rates, transit fares, frontage levies and
• And no new fees.
Bowman told reporters the “responsible” way to address the $40-million
shortfall was to reduce the number of road projects rather than recover the
entire amount through an additional 7.1 per cent property tax increase.
Council will be asked to make up half of the $40 million from the 2019
local street renewal reserve fund. The remaining $20 million will be
referred to the 2020 capital budget process.
Bowman said reduced spending on roads in future years will become “the
city’s new reality.”
Rolling back infrastructure spending means fewer roads will be repaired,
but $86.4 million remains a significant amount compared to the spending
during the 10 years of the Sam Katz administration (2004-14), and is
slightly more than the $84 million council approved in 2014.
*Also affected by the infrastructure rollback will be sidewalks, bike
trails and pedestrian pathways — $2.7 million less than was projected in
the 2018 budget, and a total of $17.5 million over six years.*
Finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham said the preliminary budget was
produced by the EPC, but it also reflects concerns from other members of
council and the public.
“We are dealing with a new fiscal reality with the province of Manitoba,”
Gillingham said revenue collected from the impact fee (the charge on new
residential development on the suburban areas) will continue to be held in
a reserve account and not used for spending this year.
Total capital projects spending for 2019, including utilities and special
operating agencies, is set at $367.5 million, a reduction of $12.5 million
There is $2.1 million set aside for continued planning on the Kenaston
Boulevard/Route 90 widening but no funds for construction. The Arlington
Street bridge replacement was not identified as a project.
*Those hoping to see an introduction of a low-income bus pass this year
will be disappointed. However, that’s planned to be introduced in April
2020, with a 30 per cent discount on the full adult fare, rising to 50 per
cent in 2022.*
*Winnipeg Transit will benefit with the purchase of 34 new buses, $1
million for heated bus shelters and $500,000 for improving bus-stop
The budget will also see a reduction in dividends taken from water and
sewer rates — to 11 per cent from 12 per cent. (The dividend is the amount
of revenues from the water and waste department that is skimmed off to
offset property taxes. The Katz administration imposed an eight per cent
dividend in 2011; Bowman increased it to 12 per cent in his first budget in
2015.) A surprise in the budget is the size of the funding increase to the
Winnipeg Police Service. Despite assurances the WPS budget would be limited
to the rate of inflation, police will get a 3.4 per cent increase in 2019,
to $301.4 million from $291.5 million.
• Spending on community centre renovation grants double, from $920,000 to
• $169 million over six years to reduce the incidence of combined sewer
• $22.2 million for 34 Winnipeg Transit buses;
• $1-million study on electrification of transit buses;
• $18 million in savings from vacancy management; • And $12 million in
savings from department efficiencies.
● How much money does the city need this year for its current operating
● What kind of a property tax increase is the city looking for?
The proposed budget calls for a 2.33 per cent property tax increase, the
same annual increase Mayor Brian Bowman campaigned for during the civic
● What does it mean to your wallet?
If your home is worth $296,560 — the average cost of a house here — you’ll
be paying an additional $40.38. That means your tax bill (not including
what you’ll be paying to your local school division) will go from $1,733 to
● What will that extra tax money go to?
The city says the entire 2.33 per cent increase goes to infrastructure, not
for salaries or to pay for new goodies. Two per cent would go to rebuilding
and repairing regional and local roads, while the rest, 0.33 per cent,
would go to complete the Southwest Rapid Transitway.
● I’ve heard the city is at loggerheads with the provincial government over
funding — what does that mean for the city’s budget and my pocketbook?
A lot, according to the proposed budget. There will be slashes throughout
the budget, including:
• Spending only $86.4 million on regional and local road renewals and
repairs in 2019, down from the proposed $128.4 million. It would be the
lowest annual expenditure since 2014.
• Reducing the city’s overall road renewal plan from $976 million over the
next six years to $801 million.
• Cutting spending on sidewalks, bike corridors and recreational walkways
from almost $5.7 million to $3 million, a near-50 per cent reduction.
● What new things is the city spending money on?
• The city plans to strip away part of the corporate support services
department for a new innovation, transformation and technology department.
It will take the old department’s $20-million budget for innovation needs
and add an additional $4.6 million to it.
• Transit bus drivers will finally be protected by safety shields. The city
will spend $3.15 million over the next year for their purchase and
• The purchase of 34 new buses at a cost of $22.2 million.
• A plan to spend more than $1 million for more heated bus shelters.
• Implementing a low-income bus pass, but it won’t start until April 2020.
The pass would give a 30 per cent discount for adult monthly passes in
2020, 40 per cent in 2021 and 50 per cent starting in 2022.
• Spending $1 million to study how to incorporate electric buses into the
current transit system and create a budget estimate for buying between 12
and 20 battery-electric vehicles.
• No new fees are proposed. No water and sewer rate increases. No frontage
levy rate increase. Parking rates will not go up.
● Who are the winners in this budget?
• Bus riders. For the first time since 2007, transit fares will not go up.
• Cyclists. The city is looking at earmarking $432,000 of the $35-million
snow-removal budget to keep bicycle corridors free of snow and ice.
• Police officers. The Winnipeg Police Service is one of the few
departments, along with Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service, that will get an
increase higher than the cost of living. The budget proposes giving it an
extra $9.9 million, up from $291.5 million to $301.4 million.
• Firefighters. The department will get a budget increase of 4.2 per cent.
As well, they will get more than $16 million in capital support to pay for
a new computer-aided dispatch system, new air compressors, cardiac
monitors, defibrillators and power stretchers and $3.4 million to maintain
and repair fire-paramedic stations.
• Community centres. The city-owned centres needing repairs will have more
money to draw from. The city is looking at doubling the funding to the
Community Centre Renovation Grant Program from just under $1 million to $2
million and increasing eligible grants from $50,000 to $100,000.
• Winnipeg’s rivers. The city is looking at spending $31 million this year,
part of a $169-million plan over six years, to reduce the amount of sewage
getting out of the city’s combined sewer overflow into rivers during major
rain events. The city is hoping to reduce sewage overflows into the rivers
by at least 85 per cent by 2045.
• Athletes and culture lovers. Museums, community centres and other
organizations will get $42.9 million in grant support this year.
● How much do we pay for our police and fire protection?
A lot. Between the two of them, the Winnipeg Police Service and the
Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service account for $503 million, or 45 per cent,
of the city’s entire tax-supported budget.
● Property taxpayers have to pay more in this budget — how about small
The city proposes to reduce the business tax from 5.14 per cent to 4.97 per
cent while also increasing the business tax threshold from $33,300 to
$33,900. This is about a 13 per cent decrease from 2014, as the city moves
toward the tax’s eventual elimination.
● Will our water and sewer bills subsidize our tax dollars?
Yes, but not as much as before. For the first time since it was put into
place in 2011, the city will reduce the water and sewer dividend rate from
12 to 11 per cent. This is the amount taken from water and sewer and put
into general revenue. The city says this will help the city fund the
waste-water treatment infrastructure, which the province has ordered it to
● What about the capital budget, which pays for major construction projects
in the city including roads, bridges, underpasses, police stations and park
The city is proposing spending $367.5 million this year, a bit less than
the $380.1 million it spent last year. The city is also budgeting to spend
$2.3 billion in capital investment in the next six years.
● What will this budget pay for over the next six years?
More than $800 million on renewing existing local and regional roads, more
than $169 million to reduce combined sewer overflow incidents, more than
$11.8 million to build a new recreation facility in Waverley West and more
than $23 million for the urban forest enhancement program.
The city is also proposing sliding up to $3 million now into the 2020
capital budget for renovating and renewing Rainbow Stage. This project is
subject to Rainbow Stage’s board successfully securing matching funds from
other levels of government and private donors.
● What happens now?
City committees — infrastructure renewal and public works; water and waste,
riverbank management and the environment; protection, community services
and parks — and the Winnipeg Police Board now get a chance to look through
the budget and allow the public to give feedback before it goes back to
executive policy committee and onto city council.
— Kevin Rollason