Toward free public transit

The pandemic has discouraged the use of public transit. Confinement, telework, and fear of catching the coronavirus have made people avoid collective transit options. We cannot allow this decline in popularity to be permanent.

Between 2006 and 2019 the Quebec population of driving age increased by 13%, while the number of cars on the roads increased by 23%. We know that 40% of Quebec’s total emissions are attributable to the transportation sector, so we must aim to decrease the use of individual vehicles. Both ecologically and socially – the hours swallowed up in road congestion increase each year – there must be a profound restructuring of public transportation policies.

We propose the eventual achievement of free public transit, beginning now with a 50% reduction in present fares, at a cost of $559 million.

Public transit should be tantamount to a free public service. Not only is it a way to reduce poverty and social exclusion, there are many studies and examples of cities around the world that have already made the leap, demonstrating that free public transit pays for itself by its positive consequences: greater mobility which increases economic activity, lower health care costs linked to pollution, a decrease in automobile accidents, lower road maintenance costs, elimination of fare collection costs, etc.

For new public transit networks in all regions

Given that any decrease in fares increases ridership, this measure must be accompanied by major investments in the system in order to improve service and expand its scope. The CAQ government has allocated $13.6 billion to public transportation in 2020-2030. We propose that the government double this sum immediately to $27 billion, the amount currently spent on roads.

This ambitious investment would be used to develop public transit systems in all Quebec cities. In Greater Montréal it could be used to extend the Metro while building regional express trains. In Quebec City it would be possible to break the deadlock over the proposed tramway by building new lines to the suburbs effectively immediately. In Gatineau, Sherbrooke and Saguenay, the municipalities could plan systems adapted to their situation.

To fund public transit, the CAQ government should abandon all the proposed superhighways around major cities such as the “third link” between Lévis and Quebec City. These projects are an obstacle to the needed ecological and social transition.

Inter-city transportation is a public service

Interurban bus transportation is at present handled by private monopolies supported by the government.  These carriers, interested only in profitable lines, are unable to provide uninterrupted service throughout the territory, which results in decreased use: between 2000 and 2014, ridership declined by 47%, both a cause and a consequence of reductions in service.

Only 0.67% of the Quebec budget is currently spent on public transportation in the regions. If nothing is done, this downward spiral will accentuate and the decline in services will lead to new declines in ridership, which will reduce revenues and lead in turn to further declines in service, and so on. The pandemic and the restrictions imposed on inter-regional travel have led to a major shortfall for the carriers, which leaves little hope for an improvement in regional routes.

This crisis is an opportunity for a new departure in inter-city transportation. Instead of bailing out the private monopolies and returning to the unsustainable dynamic that prevailed before the pandemic, we must make a transition to making transportation lines functional.

We propose the establishment of an Interurban Transport Agency (ATI), a public inter-city bus transportation system that can provide ongoing widely available service at an affordable price. Inter-city transportation must be considered a public service.

This measure represents an investment of $2 billion for the takeover of the private monopolies and their  licenses, and the construction of the necessary transportation infrastructures. By ensuring a reliable link among Quebec’s regions, this service would offer a means of replacing private cars, contributing to regional economies and promoting local tourism. In short, this transportation system linking Quebec’s regions meets a social need in addition to being indispensable to the ecological transition.

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