Quebec to give cities $200M for public transit. But that won't cover shortfall

Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault's bill to create Mobilité Infra Québec is set to be tabled Thursday. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault's bill to create Mobilité Infra Québec is set to be tabled Thursday. (Sylvain Roy Roussel/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Quebec is willing to put up $200 million to absorb part of the greater Montreal public transit deficit — less than half the amount requested by Montreal's regional transit authority.

The story was first reported in La Presse Monday and confirmed by Radio-Canada.

In a pre-budget consultation report, the Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) asks the province for $421 million to avoid cutting services.

Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault met with mayors and transit agency representatives this afternoon to discuss financing, according to a statement from the Transport Ministry sent Monday.

The meeting came days after Guilbault announced plans to create Mobilité Infra Québec — an agency that would allow the government to regain control of transit projects. She is set to table a bill for the plan Thursday.

"The logic that we have applied since the pandemic is to make up part of the fare losses caused by the drop in ridership in public transportation," the statement reads. "This is still what guides our reasoning."

To address the shortages plaguing transit agencies, cities have been considering scaling down services and collecting taxes on the registration of passenger vehicles.

The ARTM is projecting a $280-million "cyclical" deficit for 2025 — a shortfall linked to the drop in ridership and fare revenue during the pandemic. The agency is also facing a structural deficit that the province does not intend to cover.

According to Radio-Canada sources, without a long-term government strategy for public transit, the ARTM's debt will continue to grow.

In a statement issued following the meeting, a spokesperson for Guilbault said the goal was to find a solution for the 2025 deficit by this summer.

According to the spokesperson, the minister is determined to come up with a plan to finance public transit for the coming years to help cities plan their budgets.

More meetings between both sides are expected in the coming weeks.

Tension between province and mayors

Negotiations between Quebec and municipalities over public transportation funding have been tense since last fall, when Guilbault imposed performance audits on public transit agencies.

She sparked an outcry two weeks ago after saying that managing public transit was "not a mission of the state."

Those comments prompted Quebec City Mayor Bruno Marchand to say he no longer has confidence in Guilbault and that she has "no vision."

In response to the criticism, Premier François Legault added fuel to the flame, saying it was "not normal" for transit agency managers to exceed a budget adopted at the beginning of the year only to have mayors ask the province to cover expenses.

Monday, Varennes Mayor and Union des municipalités du Québec (UMQ) president Martin Damphousse urged the Legault government to present a long-term transit strategy for all Quebec regions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

"Public transit isn't there to make money," Damphousse said in an interview with Radio-Canada's Tout un matin. "When we build a bridge, a highway, we don't generate revenue. They're state expenses so it takes a clear vision from the state."

He added that after hearing the Legault government's state its ambitions, he wants "the numbers to follow."