Geneviève Guilbault wants to resolve the deficits of public transport companies by the summer

The Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Geneviève Guilbault, wishes to resolve the contentious issue of financing public transport for the year 2025 before the summer.

At the end of a virtual meeting between the minister and the mayors of large cities, the Montreal Metropolitan Community (CMM), chaired by Valérie Plante, highlighted the openness demonstrated by Geneviève Guilbault. “The CMM welcomes its openness to dialogue and considers that this is the start of a conversation to continue on the financing of public transport,” commented the CMM at the beginning of the afternoon. “Just like us, Mme Guilbault indicated that he wanted to settle the financing for this year before the summer. She also wants to plan the next two years starting in the fall. »

Another meeting is also planned for May 24 and, this time, the minister will address specifically the representatives of the CMM.

Remember that transportation companies across Quebec are facing significant shortfalls due to the drop in ridership attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic and increases in costs.

The Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM), which oversees all transport organizations in the greater Montreal region, anticipates a deficit of $561 million for 2025. “The ARTM is optimistic to see discussions progress on the financing of the 2025 budget in May rather than in the fall,” indicated the organization at the end of the meeting with the minister during which precise figures were not discussed.

The Press reported Monday that Minister Guilbault proposed that the government assume 70% of the short-term deficits of transport organizations in the greater Montreal region, or approximately $200 million, while the ARTM says it needs double this sum, or $421 million.

“Me, when someone arrives and they ask me for 500 million this year when I have a deficit of 11 billion in the budget […]it doesn’t make common sense,” declared Geneviève Guilbault on Friday, during an editorial meeting with THE Duty.

The mayors of the metropolitan region feared reliving the scenario of fall 2023, when at the dawn of the submission of their cities’ budgets, transport companies were grappling with shortfalls which raised fears of significant service reductions. The deadlines presented on Monday by the minister are therefore an encouraging sign for them.

Towards an “infernal spiral”?

In the morning, the president of the executive committee of the City of Montreal, Luc Rabouin, also discussed the scenarios envisaged to remedy the lack of funding, including a reduction in services. “Today we find ourselves in a financial situation which forces us to consider different options including service cuts. And yet it is the last thing we must do in the current climatic and economic context,” he said before the Commission on Finance and Administration of the City, which launched a consultation on Monday morning on the financing of public transport.

“People need public transportation to get around, and we must — we have no choice — reduce our greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.

The ARTM believes that the shortfall in metropolitan public transport could reach $698 million in 2028.

A reduction in services could lead public transportation into a “infernal spiral,” warned Christian Nadeau, senior economist at the City of Montreal’s Finance Department. “By reducing the service offering, we make public transportation less attractive. By making public transit less attractive, we once again reduce ridership, which leads to lower fare revenues and increases the deficit,” he explained.

Cities could also impose an additional 1% rate increase, which would generate an additional $10 million in revenue. But again, such a move could lead to a drop in ridership.

Other options are mentioned, such as an indexation of the gas tax, which has not increased since 2010, as well as the increase in registration fees, which already reach $59 per year in the territory of the CMM. .

If the municipalities of the CMM alone had to assume the expected deficit of 561 million in 2025, they would have to increase their taxes by 9%, estimates the City of Montreal. Finally, the implementation of a kilometer tax, which has been the subject of discussions for years, could not be implemented before 2031, it is argued.

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