Thirty six. This is the figure we all remembered when the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM) announced the structuring project for the East (PSE). Thirty-six billion to make up for 36 years of delay in the development of public transit in the east end of Montreal.
The other 36 on which we have not lingered is the opening date of the network if it were launched today: 2036. That is in 13 years. To give you an idea of the time scale, 13 years ago, Gérald Tremblay was still mayor of Montreal. By 2036, we will probably have exceeded 1.5°C of global warming compared to the pre-industrial era. Thirteen years also means a million more cars on the roads of Quebec, including a good part in Greater Montreal.
The East can no longer afford to wait another 13 years for minimally decent transportation. The mobility problems there are current and factual: the East is highly dependent on the solo car, for lack of alternative solutions.
Remember, in 2020, in the space of a few weeks, we succeeded in transforming kilometers of streets in favor of walking and cycling, in order to meet the requirement of physical distancing. Just last year, following the increased complexity of the work on the Louis-Hippolyte-La Fontaine bridge-tunnel, shuttles were put in place between the Radisson metro and the South Shore in the space of a few days.
And if we did the same shock treatment for the East?
One can easily imagine the rapid implementation of two or three bus lines of the type related to the SRB taking up certain criteria of this mode: dedicated lanes physically separated and at all times from car traffic, priority of traffic lights at all intersections, operation 20 hours a day and, finally, frequency every five minutes during peak hours.
No need to dig and redo the underground infrastructure with billions: the technology exists today to prioritize traffic lights as buses approach. If we cannot afford a physical separation of the removable type, we can imitate New York, which has installed cameras in buses to detect motorists in violation of the reserved lanes. We can start with a circuit all along Sherbrooke Street and another on Lacordaire, which can be set up in less than 12 months.
By creating a few efficient bus lines in this way, we provide, albeit imperfectly, a short-term solution to the mobility problems suffered today, while waiting for heavier infrastructures to be thought out.
This agile approach has the advantage of measuring public transit ridership in the East and quickly correcting the situation if necessary: testing instead of planning too much, trying even if it means failing rather than doing nothing, without investing too much.
It’s time to have ambition for the East. It is time to give hope to the people of the East who have waited long enough. Who will be able to stand out and show leadership in this matter?