Montreal's transit corporation says it could be forced to make major service cuts to its Metro lines and bus network next year if it's not able to secure additional funding to balance its budget.
The Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is facing a $62-million shortfall for 2022. Without additional funding, the transit authority says Metro and bus service could be reduced by up to 30 per cent.
"This is a last-resort solution, which does not in any way correspond to the will of the STM, but which the company could be forced to put in place," said spokesperson Philippe Déry.
A document obtained by Le Devoir, which broke the news of the budget hole Thursday, outlines various scenarios being studied to reduce the agency's operating costs.
Slashing services by 30 per cent would save the corporation $150 million. Another option, which would save about a fifth of that amount, is to cut Metro service by 10 per cent and bus service by five per cent.
"This is the scenario with the least impact on our customers," said Déry. This option would cut costs by $28 million.
About 200 employees would be affected by these cuts. The job losses would happen through attrition. Approximately 11,000 people work for the transit corporation right now.
The STM says any impact on service would not be felt until the fall of next year.
The budget shortfall is linked to a structural deficit that existed before the pandemic but has been exacerbated by the health crisis, said Déry, citing a decrease in ridership and an increase in costs linked to public health measures.
The STM estimates its ridership is currently around 55 per cent of what it was pre-pandemic. At the height of the crisis, in March of 2020, ridership had dropped to 20 per cent.
"For several months now, the STM has informed authorities of the untenable financial situation in which it has found itself and of the heartbreaking choices it could be forced to make if other solutions are not put in place," said Déry.
The STM says authorities, like the Quebec government, the regional transit agency Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) and the city of Montreal, must help come up with financing solutions if they want to ensure the continuity of public transit in the city.
Mayoral candidates weigh in
With traffic gradually resuming, particularly downtown as people return to work, Projet Montréal says maintaining service to encourage the use of public transit is "essential."
"The city is actively working with the ARTM and the government to find short- and medium-term solutions, while the revenues are there," reads a party statement to CBC Montreal. It did not provide further details.
If re-elected, Projet Montréal has said it will push for further Metro line expansions, including the Pink line, which was one of leader Valérie Plante's signature promises in 2017.
Plante has also said she would add 300 buses to the STM network, make all public transit buses fully electric by 2025, make rides free for seniors and cut the cost of a pass by half for those aged 12 to 17.
Mayoral candidate Denis Coderre, who is also Plante's predecessor, says the city of Montreal has to take responsibility for the lack of transit funds. He says the city has a vote in the STM's budget and shouldn't be using the transit giant as a scapegoat.
If elected, he says his party, Ensemble Montréal, would address the funding issue for the STM because "we believe in mobility and believing in mobility means collective transport and to do so, we have to provide services," he said at a Friday news conference.
Ensemble Montréal has said it would create a "commitment of quality" charter for public transit and a monitoring committee to ensure projects, such as the Blue line expansion, stick to schedule.
Mouvement Montréal leader Balarama Holness didn't take questions about public transit at a Friday news conference.
His party has said it would offer free public transit to young Montrealers (25 and under) and seniors (65 and over). It would also aim to make STM stations fully accessible by 2028 and would hold STM public consultations to identify and address gaps in service.
The province did not respond to a CBC News request for comment.
Déry says the STM's main objective is to "protect the level of service offered to customers as much as possible."
The transit corporation says it would be happy to sit down with the government and the ARTM to look at where the money could come from and what form the financing could take, but it says major reductions to bus and metro service are inevitable without a bailout.