STM under fire for poor service
The ride doesn’t seem very smooth for the STM, for weeks now, journalistic reports appeared in The Gazette and on the CBC website, plus warnings from the union representing STM workers have been alerting on the many problems plaguing the bus service in Montreal. This past Monday Mayor Valerie Plante was asked during a city council meeting about the situation, to which she didn’t give a direct answer. The previous week the Mayor had removed some members of the STM Board of Directors, for some time too, maintenance workers have been staging some protests to back their salary demands. In general, there is a growing perception in the public that the troubles affecting the transit corporation are more severe than what the city and the STM management are ready to admit.
As we know, the STM provides metro and bus services to the whole island of Montreal. While generally speaking, the metro service is relatively more reliable and the introduction last year of the new Azur cars has been welcomed, the truth is that with only four lines and with no prospects of expansion in the short term, the Montreal metro is just a part of the whole transit system on the island. Indeed, the fundamental part of the entire system is the bus service, and it is on this front that the STM shows its main failures.
Conflicting reports from management and unions, plus the constant complaints of the public, indicate that cancellation of buses is more common than in other cities. While an STM statement admitted to an 18 percent of its buses parked for repairs, the union representing maintenance workers put that number much higher: around 30 percent.
Michael D’Alimonte, who had been reporting this issue for some time wrote that “There’s a supply and demand problem in Montreal, and it’s seriously affecting the lives of citizens. Simply put: there aren’t enough buses to meet the public transit needs of Montrealers.” For her part, the Mayor has said that new vehicles will be purchased, but buses also need maintenance, and that aspect has been neglected in recent years, according to what the unions have denounced. This is not a new phenomenon nor is it exclusive to the STM, many government agencies and corporations across the country have fallen into this ideological notion of costs reduction, leading to cuts in various areas –in the case of the STM it seems that it has been in the maintenance department. This in turn results in deterioration of services, it is obvious, if buses receive less care than they need, they will break down more often. Moreover, there has even been an increase in buses running out of fuel while on the road!
Another report last week indicated that the new hybrid buses –hailed at the time of their introduction two years ago as a significant, modernizing step– are presenting many problems forcing many of them out of service. In a public statement this week, the STM replied that “It is incorrect to state that hybrid buses were not designed to operate in an urban environment. They were designed for frequent start-stop driving; the problem involves the diesel engine, more specifically, its filters. These particulate filters are required by regulation (clean engines).” Whatever the actual cause of the breakdowns, the end result has been fewer buses on the streets.
Overcrowded buses creating great inconvenience to passengers is the immediate result of having a reduced fleet, a problem that is now so prevalent that according to a report by Radio Canada, drivers currently don’t bother reporting it anymore.
The question about the declining quality of bus service in Montreal becomes now, as we enter the winter season, a severe problem which –it seems– neither the STM management nor their political bosses at City Hall seem willing to tackle anytime soon.