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Montreal public transit users should expect no new services for five years

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Public transit users in the Montreal area are being told not to expect any new services for at least five years as there is a major budget shortfall and no new money coming from Quebec.

Montreal's regional transit authority, the ARTM, is projecting a budget deficit of over $560 million in 2025.

For the STM, it means dramatically reigning in spending.

"A huge effort was made this year in 2024," said STM board president Eric Alan Caldwell. "We're keeping the same level of service, and we had to let go 232 jobs."

Caldwell said for the next five years, the STM is putting much of its research and development spending on hold, prioritizing the costs associated with maintaining the current level of services.

"Now we're not in a growth cycle," said Caldwell. "We're in a cycle where we just want to maintain our service, and that will be the foundation to start and develop further."

For public transit advocates, it's dissapointing news.

"We were planning increases of 5 per cent per year," said Nicolas Nadeau-Fredette of Trajectoire Quebec. "Now we are in the stagnation. That is not acceptable, so we need to maintain the increase." 

The dilemma all transit companies are facing is that riders only cover around 30 per cent of operational costs; the rest is paid for by taxpayers. Quebec has not yet agreed to subsidize further growth of the network.

"Every city in the Montreal region, has increased their contribution by 6 per cent," said Caldwell. "With the major effort by the cities, and the users are already paying their fares, so next step is new revenues and new subsidies."

Caldwell calls it a worthwile investment.

The $560 million shortfall, he added, still represents a smaller cost per user compared to the cost of maintaining roads and highways.

"It's about three or four times more expensive if someone does a kilometer in a car instead of if they do it in public transit," said Nadeau-Fredette. "So if we take every cost, like the every social cost of the car, it is way more expensive."

Nadeau-Fredette said public transit, like any public service, will never be profitable, but he believes that more services will lead to more users, which will get people out of their cars and off the roads.  

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