Despite the diversity of experts who gathered to discuss the issue of transportation in Montreal this Tuesday at Concordia University, there was strong consensus in their conclusion: the solution to current and future problems in the city’s transportation system is to focus on mass transit.
Organized by Concordia’s Faculty of Public Affairs, “Are we there yet: Moving Montreal’s transit in the right direction,” brought together expert panellists to discuss Montreal’s declining transportation infrastructure – much of it has not been replaced or rebuilt since the 1960s. The question for policymakers now is whether to renovate the existing infrastructure, or to invest in completely new projects.
Anthony Freyne, a transportation advocate with passengers’ association, Transport 2000, said that politicians often engage in exciting projects without realistically considering what is economically feasible.
“Montreal has been a real champion in coming up with grandiose plans, but such projects have been taking decades when they should be taking years,” he said.
Health Canada considers transportation to be one of the 12 key determinants of health, because of its correlations with physical activity, air quality and accidents. While transportation accounts for about half of greenhouse gas emissions in Montreal, public transit only accounts for 1 per cent
“Montreal needs another bridge onto the island like I need another hole in the head,” Norman King, from Direction de la Santé Publique (DSP), said humorously, referring to the fact that more cars are pouring into Montreal each day than the city can handle. DSP aims to help reduce traffic volume by 20 per cent in order to improve public health, a goal which the other panellists agreed with.
Martin Bergeron from the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal felt that the choice between investing in automobiles and public transit is a very clear one. He explained that investing in transit translates into a long-term investment in Montreal, while private automobiles tend to divert funds away from the city.
The cost of traffic congestion in Montreal has risen to $1.4 billion – 1 per cent of the total municipal GDP – which adds economic urgency to the need for investment in public transit.
Francois Pepin from the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) concluded by describing how the STM has adapted to attract new ridership. STM’s changes include the improvement of services, expansion into the media and the new Opus pass. When asked about the role that bicycle programs will have in the future of Montreal’s transportation, the panellists agreed that, although bikes can only play a small part in public transport, they are nonetheless important.
“It’s a win-win solution,” said King. “You’re reducing pollution and you’re getting people active.”
However, King also said that necessary accommodations must be made in order for people to consider cycling to work or school, including improved safety and the implementation of showers in the workplace.
Angelique Rousseau, a Concordia student and co-organiser of the event, explained that since being assigned the topic of public transportation in class, she’s come to understand the complexity and depth of the issue. “We’ve discovered that there are more sides to this, and sometimes it’s a little more political and financial than we originally thought.”
Charles Brenchley, another student and co-organiser of the event, explained the importance of public panels like this one. “What’s really neat with the transportation issue is that usually with these discussions you get people really pulling apart and fighting for their different views. Even though these people are from all different sectors, and have different ways of going about it, the common goal is to help Montreal develop a transportation system that is going to be prosperous for its residents.”