STM service slowdowns will continue as transit authority struggles with $43M deficit

·2 min read
The STM board’s new chair, Coun. Éric Alan Caldwell, said the current funding model is unsustainable. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The STM board’s new chair, Coun. Éric Alan Caldwell, said the current funding model is unsustainable. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Montreal's bus and Metro services will continue to be slower in 2022 as the city's public transit authority struggles with a $43 million deficit.

In a presentation to the city's finance and administration committee on Friday, Luc Tremblay, director general of the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), said the transit authority absolutely must find new sources of revenue.

When compared to pre-pandemic service frequency, the STM estimates the Metro service has been reduced by five per cent, and the bus lines by 3.5 per cent. It will stay that way for the time being, 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 issues, said Tremblay.

These measures will enable the public company to save 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 that "will no longer be possible. It's been done for years, and we can't anymore."

"We have truly come to a crossroads. It takes new sources of income," he said.

The STM board's new chair, Coun. Éric Alan Caldwell, agreed the current funding model is unsustainable.

The decision to postpone maintenance on the Azur cars will affect riders because there will be more frequent breakdowns, said Pierre Barrieau, a transportation planning expert who heads Gris Orange Consultant Inc. and lectures at the Université de Montréal.

The STM could save money by reviewing the frequency of express bus lines or by reducing the use of articulated buses outside of peak hours as regular buses cost less to operate, he said.

However, he added, the STM is considered one of the best-managed transportation companies in North America, so there isn't 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 that the costs aren't ultimately passed on to the 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 the decision to postpone maintenance will not affect the warranty on the cars.

This two-year warranty applies to each of the cars respectively from the moment they have been received 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, chair of the city's city's finance and administration committee, said the STM's financial situation is "very worrisome." The city's 2022 budget, and its 10-year fixed asset program will be reviewed, and recommendations could be adopted as early as next week.