Quebec will make a new offer to Greater Montreal transportation companies, increasing its aid for 2024 from $150 million to more than $200 million, we learned The Press. Five mayors warned Thursday that without improvements, the public transport sector would suffer heavy losses: closure of the metro after 11 p.m., drop in the number of buses and layoff of drivers.
What there is to know
Last week, Minister Geneviève Guilbault offered transport companies funding of 502.8 million over five years, which represents barely 20% of the industry’s deficit.
According to information obtained by The Pressthe minister will make a new offer to improve her aid for 2024.
Mayors of Greater Montreal are concerned about seeing a reduction in public transportation services without sufficient improvement in aid from Quebec.
Such cuts would “damage the economic reputation” of the metropolis, worries Valérie Plante.
“Basically, it is a cry from the heart that we are making today. I’m thinking about the Montreal Canadian games at the Formula 1 Grand Prix. What do we do if all these people don’t have service available after 11 a.m. [le soir] ? », Underlined the mayor of Montreal on Thursday, during a press scrum at Victoria Square, at the end of the day.
She was referring to information first reported by Radio-Canada, that The Press was able to confirm, according to which the initial proposal from the Minister of Transport Geneviève Guilbault to absorb only 20% of the deficits of transport companies – with aid of 502.8 million over five years – would have the consequence of reducing working hours opening of the metro. This first offer provided nearly 150 million for 2024 to transport companies in Greater Montreal.
According to the municipalities’ assumptions based on this first offer, the metro should close after 11 p.m. each day and only open at 9 a.m. on weekends. This would also have the effect of reducing the number of trains available on the yellow, green and orange lines.
In the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) bus network, the number of trips would also drop by around 15% on weekdays and weekends, increasing crowding and the “sardine class” effect, especially rush hour.
Everywhere in Greater Montreal, in Laval and Longueuil, this impact would be felt in the same way. On the North Shore, the Société de transport de Laval (STL) risks losing more than a hundred employees within a few years, which would also force it to reduce services. Same story at the Réseau de transport de Longueuil (RTL) and at exo, on the South Shore, which should also reduce the frequency of their trips as well as their workforce.
A new offer
According to information obtained by The Press with actors involved in the talks, Geneviève Guilbault will make a new offer in order to increase its aid for 2024 – an important element for transport companies which must present their budget soon.
The envelope will increase from 150 to more than 200 million dollars for that year. Signals to this effect have even been sent to transport companies in recent days, without a new formal offer having been presented by the minister, we have seen.
Asked to comment on this information, Geneviève Guilbault’s office neither confirmed nor denied it. Government sources who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter, however, confirmed the increase in aid to more than 200 million.
This improvement is granted in a context where the government must already respond to several requests for financial assistance from municipalities, in terms of homelessness, housing and adaptation to climate change. The Minister of Finance, Eric Girard, has already indicated that these three issues would be priorities in his economic update on November 7. Aid to transport companies for 2024 will also be included.
A counter-offer at 75% for 2024
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, the municipalities of Greater Montreal officially submitted a counter-offer to Minister Geneviève Guilbault. In a letter obtained by The Press, they propose that Quebec assumes in the short term 75% of the deficit for the year 2024 estimated at 532 million; the other 25% would be paid by the municipalities. Their request to the government thus amounts to 400 million.
There is therefore always a gap between the new offer and the counter-proposal of the transport companies.
But it should be noted that the parties do not agree on the calculation of the deficit: the government is of the opinion that the transport companies overestimate it by around 100 million. At the heart of the dispute is the use of the hundred million in revenue from the new tax on registration in the “450” that the minister authorized them to collect: the transport companies had to use the kitty to reduce the deficit, while they are now allocating it to the development of their network, we see in Quebec.
Cities are offering to pay 25% of the deficit while, as recently reported The Pressthey have already agreed to limit the increase in the contribution of municipalities to the ARTM to no more than 4% for the 2024 financial year.
Here, there is no mayor who will tell you that we want to cut services. […] We hope that the minister will send the same message. It’s two minutes to midnight, we’re finalizing our budget in two weeks. It is not serious to hold a negotiation at this time.
Valérie Plante, mayor of Montreal
Mme Plante was accompanied on Thursday by the mayor of Longueuil, Catherine Fournier, the mayor of Laval, Stéphane Boyer, the mayor of Mercier, Lise Michaud, and the mayor of Repentigny, Nicolas Dufour, municipal elected officials also all involved in the Metropolitan Community of Montreal (CMM).
“Twenty percent is not up to the needs,” argued Catherine Fournier. “With the government’s offer currently on the table, we will not succeed. This offer is not serious. That’s enough. You have to sit more rigorously. It’s not just the responsibility of cities,” she insisted.
Towards “more congestion”
Stéphane Boyer maintains that it is a social choice. “Is our vision less buses and therefore more congestion? Because that’s where we’re heading if we accept the government’s proposal,” he worried, saying he feared a “very harmful turning point” for the future of mobility.
“We can find an agreement, but the government will have to water its wine. Citizens can no longer absorb the bill alone,” said Nicolas Dufour, recalling that in Repentigny, the government’s proposal would increase the population’s tax bill by 5%.
Mayor Lise Michaud still believes that it is possible to “negotiate in good faith” with Quebec, but deplores that “in the crowns, it is starving, we lack public transport”.
“Now is really not the time to ask citizens to pay more. We all want public transportation that will allow us to achieve our densification objectives and, precisely, also achieve the government’s objectives to avoid urban sprawl,” she concluded.
Geneviève Guilbault did not wish to comment on the exit of the five municipal officials. This Friday, she will be in the metropolis, for the first meeting of the Mobilité Montréal steering committee in almost four years. She is expected to meet several municipal elected officials on the sidelines of this activity.