For a sustainable Great Montréal, you have to bet on public transport


For a sustainable Great Montréal, you have to bet on public transport

By Esther Lanaspa
Montréal-based digital project manager and consultant

Transport networks represent an essential component to the proper functioning of metropolitan regions. They ensure connecting the different parts of the territory and allow the circulation of goods and talents. This in turn contributes to the economic, social and cultural thriving of the region.

In order to remain an attractive Metropolis and take full advantage of it, it is imperative for Montreal to improve, develop and renovate its transportation network while keeping in mind the demographic, economic growth, and the need to maintain productivity and well-being of the citizens.

This means being able to manage congestion of transportation networks, and properly connect the poles that are experiencing economic and demographic growth. In particular between the Island of Montreal and Laval, the north shore as well as the south shore, as they are experiencing strong demographic growth and increasing number of job creation (job migrate towards talents).

In this respect, the Metropolitan Planning and Development Plan (PMAD) has been a successful co-ordination effort in defining an action plan that takes into account the metropolitan area as a whole. It has placed public transports at the core of Montreal’s development plan.

Federal, provincial and municipal programs support the initiatives of each pole with grants which sometimes cover more than 90% of the required funding. This is especially the case in modernization and digitization projects, such as the iBUS project (supervision and training tools, passengers’ real time information), the all-electric buses test of Société de transports de Montréal or the support provided to the Sustainable Mobility Plan projects of the RCMs and municipalities in the couronne sud territory.

Despite these efforts, public transit is still far from what it should be. Over 70% of the 8 million daily trips remain car trips. Moreover, carpooling has dropped from 4.8% to 3.2% between 2001 and 2016.

Given the current pressure on public finances, several development or improvement projects in public transportation have been postponed until 2022-2031. However, at the same time, the region continues to invest in improving the roads.

Although it is important to maintain investments for roads to improve fluidity and safety, investing in public transit must remain the priority. Public transit remains the best solution to improve access to the workplace, schools and universities. Public transportation is also the best way to fight against negative effects of car use: household’s costs, air and noise pollution and lower productivity (and thus competitiveness) for companies, among the most important.

Given the initiatives taken by other metropolises (Paris and Barcelona for exemple) as well as Quebec’s reports on the subject, three key measures should be implemented:

  • First of all, transfer car-related taxes (gasoline taxes, tolls, driving and registration licenses) to finance public transportation. Even symbolic, this transfer could be largely communicated to citizens to foster behaviour changes in transportation habits.
  • Second of all, compare long-term cost and return on investment for every new road capacity development project (enlargement, extension, new infrastructure, etc.), to public transport modes’ alternatives. According to the Chambre de commerce du Montréal métropolitain, public transit has a positive impact on Quebec’s economy nearly three times higher than private car transportation, both in terms of employment and spending. The average household cost for individual-use of public transit in the Montréal metropolitan area is estimated at $ 0.16 per kilometer versus $ 0.47 for the individual car. In adition, public transport is greener and preserves equality among citizens (low salaries, seniors).
  • Finally, get municipalities involved in the PMAD closer and keep on working on two major objectives: improve intercity transport and increase public transport offering for restricted mobility people.

Despite current effort to make public transit the preferred solution for transportation, a lot has still to be done. No one is challenging the global social and economic benefit of developing public transportation means. Public authorities, however, need to foster behavior’s changes by using fiscal incentives, debottlenecking critical pain points as well as keep on collaborating with the civil society, private and public companies.


Esther Lanaspa

About the author 

Digital project manager and consultant based in Montréal, Esther Lanaspa has just finished a project for l’Ordre d’ingénieurs du Québec dealing with challenges engineers are facing with the growing presence of artificial intelligence. She regularly contributes to the Barcelona Global network to identify best practices in the economic and cultural sector.