Last week, the City released its proposed 2011 capital budget and 5 year forecast. Altogether, transit will receive only a 3 percent increase to $29 million over the six year period – far below inflation or population growth. In other words, don’t expect any reduction in congestion or increased bus service in your area. More surprisingly, plans for extending rapid transit have been shelved altogether.

We would like to take a moment to remind Mayor Sam Katz that he ran for re-election on a promise of completing the rapid transit network across the city as light rail. “Winnipeg needs a long term sustainable rapid transit system that will get people out of their cars and thinking seriously about alternative forms of transportation,” the Mayor said in a press release last July.

Last fall, Green Action Centre took a principled, non-partisan approach to the issue of rapid transit. Like many groups and individuals in the city, we were less concerned with which technology is ultimately adopted for rapid transit than to see the project actually completed. Both major candidates for mayor, Sam Katz and Judy Wasylycia-Leis put forward strong arguments for light rail and bus rapid transit respectively. As a charitable non-profit, we were not in a position to support one candidate over another, but in any case, we could see merits of either technology. In our Priorities for a Greener Winnipeg we wrote:

“Whether council chooses to adopt wheel or rail based rapid transit is less important than that it be completed within a short time frame.”

during the election, there was controversy over the numbers. Katz endorsed the light rail plan under the assumption that it would only cost an extra $12 million per kilometre over bus based rapid transit. Others said rail would be vastly more expensive.

Cheap or dear, we all know that rapid transit will not be free. That is why we were shocked to see the line item for Rapid transit slashed to zero in the Capital Budget 2012-2016 five year forecast.

Katz says he wants light rail to be his legacy. “After years, people call it visionary. I think you’ll find LRT-lite is definitely visionary. We want to do what’s right for the city in the long term,” he told the Winnipeg Free Press last summer.

If the mayor has decided to abandon that vision now that the election is safely in the rear-view mirror, it is time for him to come forward to explain why. If he can’t justify his reversal, he must put rapid transit back in the budget.

Opportunities to participate in the Winnipeg capital budget consultations are listed on the city website.