Public transport in Quebec: in two years, the number of trips by bus or metro has dropped by 60%

Public transit in Quebec: in two years, the number of trips by bus or metro has dropped by 60%

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Quebec failed to meet its target for public transit ridership in 2021. Worse, the number of trips has even decreased by 20% across the province compared to the year 2020 has already been marked by the pandemic shock.

In two years, public transit ridership has thus decreased by more than 60% in Quebec, according to the annual report of the Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) published a few days ago.

“It's worrying”, reacts Samuel Pagé-Plouffe, coordinator of the TRANSIT Alliance. 

Between 2019 and 2020, the number of public transport trips increased from nearly 650 millions to 305 million. The Ministère des Transports du Québec (MTQ) hoped to reach 330 million in 2021. But the opposite happened. Last year, there were just under 245 million trips by bus and metro.

The ministry fell short of its target due to “containment measures” that limited movement. François Legault's government had effectively started the year by imposing a curfew that lasted more than four months. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has imposed telework and stimulated even more the choice of the automobile to the detriment of that of public transport, which has experienced a considerable drop in ridership”, can we read in the report.

Deficits< /p>

The Montreal region was particularly affected. The Société de transport de Montréal announced a few days ago a deficit of $78 million for 2023. In two years, trips in its network have fallen by 44% to reach 165 million, states the STM's recent activity report.

“There is danger in delay,” says Mr. Pagé-Plouffe. That said, we haven't had a year back to normal yet, even in 2022.”

The transport companies of Longueuil, Gatineau or Quebec also experienced declines in attendance last year. But some networks are doing better than in 2020. This is the case of Trois-Rivières and Sherbrooke.

Despite this, rising gas prices are hurting everyone. Some transit companies have asked Quebec to pay off their deficit with unused money from the COVID emergency fund. “We are still waiting for an answer,” says Marc Denault, president of the Association du transport urbain du Québec (ATUQ) and the Société de transport de Sherbrooke.

What future ?

The association also met with members of the cabinet of the new Minister of Transport, Geneviève Guilbault, last week to discuss funding and the future of public transit. .

“The deficit of all transport companies together is hovering at nearly 560 million for 2023. There is urgency,” said Mr. Denault.

This reflection is all the more important since a simple return to normal is not easy to anticipate.

“It's really very difficult to assess, explains Florence Junca-Adenot, associate professor in the Department of Urban and Tourism Studies at UQAM. Teleworking and flexible working hours have gradually become commonplace.

“Will it last? No one is able to answer it because both companies and employees are currently testing new models,” she adds.

A simple return to normal is not desirable according to the TRANSIT Alliance “Let’s remember where we were before the pandemic, explains Mr. Pagé-Plouffe. Every year we beat attendance records, it was overflowing. There was even talk of the ‘sardine class’. Is it normal that to supplement the public transport budget, it is necessary for the metro and buses to overflow?”

The MTQ is studying new sources of funding for roads and public transit to compensate for the fuel tax revenues that are decreasing with the electrification of transportation. 

“We have to find other sources of revenue, whether it's a special subsidy while waiting to see more clearly or increase the tax on gasoline, but something has to be done,” says Ms. Junca-Adenot, who previously chaired the Agency. metropolitan transportation.

If Quebec waits too long before acting, transport companies may have to cut services. “We must not, above all, reduce them. Otherwise, we shoot ourselves in the foot,” she insists.

Canadian trend

Across Canada, the situation is not is hardly more pink. According to a Statistics Canada study published last week, the number of people who commute to work by bus or metro has halved between 2016 and 2021, from 2 million to 1 million.

“This is the first decline since the census began collecting commuting data in 1996,” it read.

In May 2022, despite the withdrawal of most public health measures related to the pandemic, the number of public transit users had changed little (1.2 million).

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