A smaller proportion of Winnipeggers are riding the bus now than 20 years ago, according to recent figures released by Statistics Canada.
Winnipeg is the only city out of eight major metropolitan areas in Canada where transit ridership fell between 1996 and 2016. In 1996, 14.3 per cent of the population of the Winnipeg census metropolitan area (CMA) rode the bus. That number was 13.6 per cent in 2016.
However, all of that drop occurred between 1996 and 2001, when transit use in the Winnipeg CMA hit a low of 13 per cent, Stats Can said. It remained flat for several years but has been edging up since 2006.
On Friday, the City of Winnipeg released a list of 22 routes potentially facing service cuts due to low ridership, and the city has blamed falling ridership for the need to cut back.
In 2014, Winnipeg Transit carried 49,882,812 annual passengers, but in 2016, that dropped to 48,521,820, a decline of 2.7 per cent.
John Callahan, international vice-president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, blamed the falling ridership on the city's failure to expand the service.
When he started with Winnipeg Transit in 1988, the city had about 560 buses in its fleet. Although that number has increased to 623, newer buses can carry fewer passengers, meaning that overall capacity is lower now than it was 30 years ago.
The city would still need to add about 100 more buses to equal the capacity of past decades, he said.
"We're maxed out. We don't have enough service and that's due to lack of growth over the last 30 years," he said.
Another problem is that expansion of the transit system hasn't kept pace with the growth of the city. Newer neighbourhoods don't get the same amount of service as older ones, he said.
"It seems that we build new neighbourhoods in Winnipeg and then the afterthought is hey, we need transit there now. That shouldn't be. Transit should be a staple, it should be like your electricity, water and transit. We have definitely not grown with the city," he said.
Frequent passups, where buses are too full to take on more passengers, and concerns about safety also discourage riders, Callahan said.
City Coun. Marty Morantz, chair of the infrastructure committee, said he doesn't know why ridership is declining, but said it could have something to do with declining fuel prices.
"I don't really know the answer. I could only speculate," he said.
Callahan said transit just isn't a priority for the city, and suggested the city should make transit its own portfolio, separate from infrastructure.
"Right now Coun. Morantz has the file and he's done a good job, but he also has infrastructure and then transit. I believe transit needs to be in the forefront," he said.