Got your commute to work timed down to the minute? If you rely on one of Montreal's rapid bus routes, be prepared to adjust your schedule.
The city's public transit authority is reducing the frequency of trips on those lines as of Monday, forcing it to abandon its promise of a 10-minute maximum wait for its most popular bus routes during rush hour.
"In order to minimize the impact on bus overcrowding, this adjustment affects the least busy routes and directions," said the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) on its website.
The guarantee of a bus every 10 minutes was initially launched in 2010 on 31 bus routes on the island of Montreal. The commitment applied Monday to Friday, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Due to the significant drop in ridership at the start of the pandemic, it had decided to keep its promise on just eight routes: 18 Beaubien, 24 Sherbrooke, 33 Langelier, 64 Grenet, 103 Monkland, 106 Newman, 141 Jean-Talon est, and 406 Express Newman.
"The COVID-19 pandemic has changed customer habits," said STM spokesperson Philippe Déry.
As more and more people began working from home, he said the STM had to readjust its services to meet demand.
Last November, the STM reported a near $78-million deficit for 2023, which it said might lead to reduction in services.
Currently, ridership on the bus network is at about 70 per cent of what it was pre-pandemic. The overall forecast for 2023 is in the 70 to 80 per cent range, said Déry.
It is "out of fairness to all customers," he said, that the [STM] has decided to eliminate the last bus routes on the "10 Minutes Max" network.
Driving people back to their cars: transit rights group
Sarah Doyon, executive director of Trajectoire Québec, expressed her disappointment with the end of the service in an interview with Radio-Canada's 15-18. Her organization promotes citizens' rights to public transportation throughout Quebec.
"It's true that there seems to be less public transit ridership, but we're trying … to win back users who have left [it]," she said.
"We didn't decide to replace certain "10 Minutes Max" lines with others … we really decided to dismantle the network, and that's very unfortunate."
Doyon said doing away with the service risks creating a vicious cycle, where a flock of customers will go back to using their vehicles.
"The priority for users is frequency," she said. "You could just go to the stop and know that a bus would be coming [within 10 minutes]."
The priority for users is frequency. - Sarah Doyon, executive director of Trajectoire Québec
Meanwhile, Déry said that most routes that originally offered the "10 Minutes Max" service still provide rapid service.
"Sometimes it's just minor adjustments. For example, going from a frequency of 10 to 12 minutes for a short period," he said.
But that answer leaves Doyon sketpical. "What will it be, 12 or 13 minutes this year? But next year will it be 15 to 17 minutes, and the year after that, 20 minutes?"
Don't trust the signs
Don't be fooled! Though the promise of a maximum wait time no longer applies, the STM does not intend to remove the "10 Minutes Max" symbol on its bus stop signs.
Instead, the 2,326 signs on the network will be modified during maintenance work to save money, said Déry. The STM is unable to give a specific timeline for removing all symbols.
The symbol has already disappeared from its website.
However, the STM says that the schedule posted at the stops is accurate and reflects this change in service.
Furthermore, the transit authority encourages users to consult digital apps such as Chrono or the STM website to obtain real-time information on their routes.