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Budget Cuts Threaten Montreal’s Public Transit

The STM’s Unstable Future

Montreal’s public transit system, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM), is currently staring down a projected $2.5-billion deficit for the next five years. When Quebec Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault announced in November that the government would only be absorbing $238 million of the deficit for 2024, she argued that the STM needed to find other sources of funding. “We can’t just keep throwing money at this infinitely,” she said. “It’s a bottomless hole.”

The CAQ seems to think that the STM is indeed nothing more than a “bottomless hole” draining taxpayer money and resources, but it’s difficult to imagine that the millions of Montrealers who depend on this city’s public transit system share that sentiment. In a place that is home to the majority of Quebecers living in poverty, and which accounts for the largest unhoused population in the province, we should expect Greater Montreal to have strong standards for all forms of public transportation. With this latest development, the entire public transit sector risks being dragged further into a “downward spiral,” says Eric Alan Caldwell, the Chairman of the STM Board of Directors.

Prior to this upsetting news, the STM was already struggling to maintain its services: tens of millions in deficit have been hanging over its head, and it has failed to meet its bottom line for the third year in a row. For the moment, thanks in part to STM’s prior one-time savings and the Legault government’s agreement to cover 70 per cent of public transit deficits – following their initial offer of only 20 per cent – no service cuts that will directly affect transit riders have been announced in the short term. However, the STM warned that: “[t]his level of effort cannot be sustained over the next few years, without jeopardizing the company’s ability to maintain its service offering.”

The burden of this financial disembowelment is already being felt by STM employees. Though the public agency has not specified how many positions may be cut, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 2850 has since revealed STM staff were informed that at least 255 positions may be terminated. They state: “[n]on-unionized, unionized, administrative and professional jobs will be affected, in particular” – essentially everyone. As about 85 per cent of the STM’s budget is tied to its operations, future budget cuts will inevitably impact employees and services alike.

Few protests have followed the transport minister’s announcement, with each consisting of only a hundred or so demonstrators. This minimal response stands in stark contrast with the profound impact that these cuts will have on millions of people, many of whom are students, who depend upon public transit to travel across the island. The STM plays an integral role in the accessibility of transportation – compromises to its services would particularly impact those with mobility needs or those who cannot afford their own vehicles.

Many ongoing STM projects are also facing budget cuts,such as the Sustainability Development Plan 2025, and the plan to install elevators in every metro station as part of efforts to increase accessibility for people with physical or mobility disabilities. These two long-term initiatives,
both intended to come into effect by 2025, will likely be deprioritized as the STM scrambles to make ends meet. Our public transit system will not only experience a reduction in services but will also see its hard-won environmental and accessibility projects brought to a standstill. In an interview with CTV News, Vélorution Montréal cofounder and protest organizer Mathieu Murphy-Perron said: “If we want a city that’s free of congestion, a city that’s safe, a city that’s not too noisy, we need to offer alternatives to the all-car culture.” For a government supposedly committed to sustainable, accessible transportation, the CAQ is actively hindering the one organization that can bring these changes about.

For us Montrealers, it is important to remain keenly aware and up to date with the consequences of the STM’s financial troubles on our daily lives and the city at large. In the face of distressing global events that continue to dominate the public eye, local issues seem to have been neglected in the last few months. But just as we need to keep informed on issues worldwide, it is also our responsibility to bring awareness and support to the local organizations who are helping those most affected by the unstable future of the STM. Especially for an institution as crucial to so many as the STM, remaining silent on this issue is simply not an option. Sign up to Vélorution MTL and Trajectoire Québec’s newsletters to stay informed with their organizational efforts, and keep expressing your support for projects at risk of being defunded, like the Sustainability Development Plan 2025, and the STM’s plans for universal accessibility. Spread awareness, discuss, and voice your discontent with friends and peers, all while keeping a close eye on the changes related to the STM that are sure to be announced in the coming months. Montrealers deserve a public transit system that is better funded and higher prioritized by its governing powers. It is our duty to continuously and emphatically remind the CAQ that their actions not only dismiss the interests of their constituents, but actively harm the very foundational institutions of our city.