Transit woes in Montreal
By Sergio Martinez – mtltimes.ca
The executives of the Montreal Transit Corporation (STM for its French acronym) must certainly be happy with the substantial increases in their salaries, for users of public transportation however it is a quite different story: fewer buses serving some routes have resulted in longer waits. Of course some lingering problems derived from rudeness on the part of some drivers and ticket counter attendants at some metro stations, frequent interruptions and slowdowns of the metro service due to undisclosed reasons (many of them suicides or attempted suicides), unannounced cancellation of buses (line 144 is one of the major offenders), the use of some metro stations as loitering places by some people (at Atwater station for example) are other inconveniences that users of our public transportation system must endure every day.
A new element has been added these days to complicate things even more for the STM, a report issued by the Pembina Institute shows that Montreal (and Toronto too, if that can be a consolation) is dramatically falling behind in regard to modernizing the transit system. “Toronto and Montreal created strong transit cultures by investing in subways a generation ago. However, they’re now being surpassed by cities like Vancouver and Calgary, which have adopted more flexible transit solutions to serve their growing populations” said Cherise Burda, the Ontario Director for the Pembina Institute.
This institute specializes in the environmental aspect of various economic activities, its report on transit in major Canadian cities pointed to the investments made by the authorities in those cities to improve access to public transportation while at the same time providing environmentally sound alternatives to cars.
Although Montreal was the second city in the country to build a metro system—our main form of rapid transit—this network that now counts four lines hasn’t had major extensions in recent years other than the 5 km. expansion of the orange line into Laval in 2007. The new government has pledged to help extend the blue line to Anjou as well as the other arm of the orange line to the north-west part of the island, but there haven’t been any more concrete moves on these two projects. A more controversial one, the extension of the yellow line into south shore territory also seems in suspense at this point (the controversy over this projected extension arises from the fact that it would be a new metro addition outside the island while in the meantime the long-awaited extensions of the blue and orange lines are kept on ice; that to say nothing of other extensions that many doubt they will ever see in their lifetime, like an old project to extend the blue line west of the Snowdon station to NDG, Cote St.Luc, and Montreal West).
However the Pembina report also reminds us that metro lines are not the only form of rapid transit: light rapid transit (LRT) a type of train or articulated tramway that may also circulate at street level on a segregated road, urban and suburban trains, and dedicated rapid-bus lanes, are “more affordable and quicker-to-deploy technologies” says the report. On this Montreal is falling behind, with only one rapid-bus on the works at this time on Pie IX Boulevard. About a similar project with a trolleybus line on St. Michel announced during the previous provincial government we haven’t heard anything lately. The re-introduction of a tramway system also running on a segregated road seems to be postponed sine die, its high cost being the main excuse for inaction.
The truth however, is that any significant improvement in our transit system will require some large amounts of money, and therefore the political will to invest in something that ultimately would be of an undeniable benefit to Montreal for generations to come. The question is whether the overpaid (and I would say mostly incompetent) bureaucrats in charge of the STM and their political masters would have the vision to defy the conformist views that call for austerity, and instead take the bold step of stimulating the economy, creating jobs and leaving as a legacy a modern transit system for Montreal, before it continues deteriorating and becoming obsolete.