PQ wants to kill REM – The screening of the documentary “The Trolley” directed by Stephen Low which convened a large number of people followed by a Q&A session and a lively discussion too, has contributed to reigniting the debate over the reintroduction of tramways in the city. Present at the screening were also some representatives of the Parti Québécois, a party that during the current electoral campaign has made of public transit one of its main topics. Of course, the PQ this time is placed in a distant third position in all opinion polls, and its sudden interest in how the public mobilizes in our main city is seen by some as a suspicious move. With sovereignty out of the radar of most people in Quebec, they seem to say: let’s champion some other more “down to earth” cause instead of a dream that, in recent years, has failed to excite voters, especially younger ones.
The PQ platform calls for cancelling the REM and instead focus on new express bus lines, and –the aspect that has drawn the most attention – the construction of five tramway lines. The four lines on the Montreal Island would serve the areas around the old Hippodrome, the Trudeau Airport, the East End and St-Laurent Blvd. A fifth tram would be an express line from the South Shore that would go along a reserved lane of the new Champlain Bridge and would also serve Taschereau Blvd., heading to St-Hubert Airport in one direction and St-Constant in the other.
Unlike the old streetcars that ran in the middle of streets, these new vehicles would run on reserved lanes, very much as the refurbished line on Spadina Ave. in Toronto and a large part of tramway systems in European cities. The PQ project dubbed “le grand debloquage,” or big de-congesting, by its leader Jean-Francois Lisée, claims that it would be more efficient than the projected REM which in the event of forming the new government, Lisée said he would cancel. Of course, cancelling a project that is already under construction and therefore with contracts, by now signed, would prove very costly to the government. Whether you like it or not, the REM cannot be stopped now. In my view, the REM design, especially to reach the Trudeau Airport is not the best (although a rail link to the airport is undoubtedly necessary), and the notion of driverless trains is absurd and unnecessary. On the other hand, one must have in mind that a tramway system is not incompatible with the projected and controversial REM.
Naturally, the renewed idea of a tramway system for Montreal makes many people excited, not only those nostalgic about a means of transportation that –as Low states on his film – was clean, efficient and produced zero emission, but also anyone who may be concerned about environmental and urban issues. One good point that Low’s documentary also makes is that the tramway as a means of transportation is even “more democratic” than other means: one tram –depending on its size of course – could move between 70 to 200 passengers. “Why the tramways had to be removed from most cities in North America so individual motorists could have the streets all for themselves?” asks the filmmaker.
The documentary also described many factors to support the thesis that moving on rails is actually the smoothest and more energy-efficient way of transportation. Would our policy-makers bring the tramway back to Montreal?