Montreal’s bus and metro services will continue to be slower in 2022 as the city’s transit corporation grapples with a $43 million deficit.
During a presentation to the city’s finance and administration committee on Friday, Luc Tremblay, director general of the Montreal Transit Company (STM), declared that the Société de transport must absolutely find new sources of revenue.
Compared to the frequency of service before the pandemic, the STM estimates that metro service has been reduced by 5% and bus lines by 3.5%. It will stay that way for now, Tremblay said.
The first major maintenance operations for the new Azur metro cars have also been postponed for a year, a decision which, without jeopardizing the safety of users, could lead to reliability problems, Tremblay said.
These measures will save the public company about $37 million, he said, but the STM is still looking for another $43 million to balance its budget for the year.
He said many people think spending cuts will solve the problem, but “it won’t be possible anymore. It’s been happening for years, and we can’t anymore.”
“We have really come to a crossroads. We need new sources of income,” he said.
The new chairman of the STM board, Coun. Eric Alan Caldwell agrees that the current funding model is unsustainable.
The decision to postpone maintenance of Azur cars will affect users because breakdowns will be more frequent, said Pierre Barrieau, a transport planning expert who runs Gris Orange Consultant Inc. and teaches at the University of Montreal.
The STM could save money by reviewing the frequency of express bus lines or reducing the use of articulated buses outside peak hours since regular buses cost less to operate, he said.
However, he added, the STM is considered one of the best-run transportation companies in North America, so there’s not a lot of fat to cut. The STM’s budget for 2022 is $1.57 billion.
Barrieau said the provincial and federal governments should help eliminate the deficit so the costs aren’t ultimately passed on to customers.
“Here we have a temporary crisis, so we have to take temporary measures to help,” he said.
The manufacturer of the 639 Azur train cars, Alstom, told Radio-Canada that the decision to postpone maintenance will not affect the cars’ warranty.
This two-year warranty applies respectively to each of the cars from their receipt by the STM, said spokesperson Adrien Vernhes. The cars were delivered in two phases between 2019 and 2021.
The last car entered service in December.
Pierre Lessard-Blais, chairman of the city’s finance and administration committee, said the STM’s financial situation is “very worrying.” The City’s 2022 budget and its ten-year capital program will be reviewed, and recommendations could be adopted as early as next week.