Municipalities depend on property tax for revenue but this does not give them enough money to build large-scale infrastructure. They need help from the federal government or the province. Currently, they both like public-private partnerships, but P3s cost more and introduce a level of non-transparency inappropriate for public transport. With $10 billion we could pay for light rail, multiple BRTs and trams, plus substantially improved, electrified suburban trains covering much of the east end and beyond. Montréal needs to be allowed to raise funds again the way it did for the Métro.
If you include time spent getting in and out stations, some of which are buried hundreds of meters below ground, subways and elevated light metro are not much faster than vehicles that run at-grade. The latter carry more people, and pose a real alternative to cars because they force drivers to share road space and leave better air for pedestrians and bicyclists. New GPS technology allows tram conductors to control traffic lights. Since they do not need huge cement support systems or lengthy tunnels, they are also cheaper and easier on the planet.
People get understandably alarmed when public transit structures are added to the scene that do not fit in. Nor do we like it if vehicles are noisy, or if dead space underneath huge slabs of monotonous concrete invite graffiti and trash. Old cities like Montreal which has so many beautiful buildings must be especially careful.
Concrete is the way most 20th century politicians imposed their ideas on city environments, and its inhumanity is patent. If no measures are adopted to limit its use, and to protect what is already built, the province will continue to favour it. Montreal needs to put a moratorium on cement.
Motor vehicles impose very large annual costs on the province, many of which drivers do not shoulder. We can no longer afford the ‘car culture’ that has dominated society over the last 75 years. To turn things around, raise the cost of gasoline and introduce congestion pricing, tolls, and eliminate parking spaces. We should also consider making large parts of the island car-free.
Big cities like Montreal and Toronto should not be playgrounds for politicians’ ill-considered vanity projects. They deserve professional transit planners who adhere to strict rules about ridership and cost-benefit. During the 1960s, the city of Montreal built the Métro by imposing a specific tax on residents. One by one, other municipalities joined in. However, since the 1970s, the province has intruded into transit planning. The Parti Québecois (PQ) created the Agence métropolitain de transport (AMT) in 1997, but ten years later, the Liberals passed a law giving provincial infrastructure projects priority over municipal ones. In 2015, the Liberals designated the Caisse de dépôt as chief agency for building infrastructure across the province, but in 2018, the Coalition Avenir du Québec (CAQ) made the Caisse rail transit authority for the island, displacing the ARTM, the ATM’s successor. The two REMs are another example of provincial meddling.
Don’t be fooled! The REM de l’Est is a medium capacity elevated automated (driverless) light metro. It is not the same as light rail which uses regular railroad tracks. Ottawa’s Confederation Line (light rail) has a maximum operating speed of 80 kph (50 mph), and carries 180,000 riders daily. Its cars arrive every 4 minutes 7 seconds and each fleet has thirteen cars, 300 people per car. REMs maximum speed is higher — 100 km/h with vehicles arriving every 2.5 minutes in fleets of two. However, each vehicle seats only 128 people! What light metro gains in speed, it loses in capacity. What light rail gains in capacity, it loses in speed, but not by much.