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Electric transportation for Montreal: A long overdue initiative

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By Sergio Martinez

 

The province of Quebec is the largest producer of electricity in Canada with its crown corporation Hydro-Québec having a capacity of 36, 810 megawatts. However, when it comes to the way people move around the dependence on fossil fuels is almost total. And we are not talking here only about the private means of transportation—the car, but also about public transportation. In fact, the metropolitan area of Montreal with the exception of the metro network and the suburban train to Two Mountains relies completely on diesel buses.

 

Trolleybus1It seems that finally the provincial government is moving to change that situation. Premier Pauline Marois announced last week a plan designed to invest 516 million dollars in what she called “a strategy whose objective is to make Quebec a world leader in electric transportation.” The premier’s plan has different aspects, one dealing with facilitating the introduction of electric vehicles for private users, for companies, municipalities and non-profit organizations. This part of the plan will include the extension of the subsidies for the purchase of electric cars until the end of 2016, while the subsidy for hybrid models will be extended for three years. The main obstacle so far, the lack of recharge stations will be addressed with the installation of 5,000 recharge stations throughout the province.

 

It is however public transportation where the announcement may have a greater relevance, since improving this service should result in more people leaving the car home at least during the week and instead heading to take the bus; or the trolleybus. Madame Marois announced that her plan will dedicate 150 millions to the installation of a trolleybus line on Saint Michel Boulevard. Although her announcement is certainly welcome (that despite the suspicions that the timing of it has something to do with a probable election call for the spring), it is still necessary to see how the re-introduction of trolleybuses would be implemented. The Montreal Transit Corporation (STM for its French name) had already conducted some studies regarding the installation of trolleybus lines, with some streets being considered for the new service, Pie IX and Sherbrooke were mentioned at that time.

 

Trolleybuses are not new to the city, various lines used to run in Montreal until the network was dismantled in the 1960s. A great mistake of course, but one that has to be understood at a time when oil companies and diesel bus manufacturers were doing a very effective lobby all over the world to have electric tramways and trolleybuses removed and instead have their vehicles, supposedly more flexible and faster than the electric ones, in place. In fact the disadvantages of diesel buses far exceed their alleged advantages: they are highly contaminant, diesel engines have a much shorter lifespan, and they are much noisier than trolleybuses.

 

The STM had also considered the use of hybrid buses (diesel-electric) and even electric ones powered by batteries. Although that is also a possibility, the geography of Montreal may conspire against them, their engines are not powerful enough to handle the numerous hilly streets in the city, trolleybuses on the other hand can do that easily, although of course installing trolleybuses is going to be costly since substations will have to be built, as well as poles and overhead wires will have to be installed, but once they are in place the maintenance cost is lower than that of diesel vehicles.

 

Let’s hope that we will have these quiet and clean vehicles soon servicing some of our public transit routes.

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