Big week for… CDPQ Infra | Are we asking roads to be profitable?

Every Friday, we look back at the media week of a personality, an institution or an issue that found itself at the heart of the news

If you are a regular user of the Réseau express métropolitain (REM), you may have been angry in January: four breakdowns in four days last week, doors that did not open, stones that blocked the doors… (The same cursed little stones which stick to the soles of our boots and which blocked the doors of the Azur cars of the Montreal metro in 2018. Strange that Alstom, manufacturer of the two train models, has not found a solution to this problem.) Add to this a blatant lack of information (where is the shuttle? What time will the service be restored?) and you have the perfect recipe to discourage a Brossard resident from going to work by REM.

CDPQ Infra tried to rectify the situation this week with an entirely unconvincing media tour. Too bad, but the series of incidents has obscured the reliability rate of the REM which is close to 99%, which is far from catastrophic, on the contrary.

Unfortunately, CDPQ Infra communicates so poorly – which is still surprising given the size of the communications department of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ) – that it has managed to turn good news into a fiasco.

This is very serious. Serious because we are at a time when we must convince people to abandon the car and choose public transport. Serious also because in Quebec, we are lagging behind in the development of this public transport.

However, instead of investing massively, transport companies are being asked to make cuts in their budgets. Again on Thursday, the Société de transport de Montréal announced the elimination of 230 positions.

It’s unfortunate, but CDPQ Infra’s failures have a negative impact on the entire public transport ecosystem. They give them bad press and give ammunition to those who oppose increasing their funding.

Expertise on the sidelines

The setbacks of the REM de la Caisse – which is still being asked to study the collective transport project for the City of Quebec, help! – led me to question our ability, as a society, to intelligently plan our public transport networks.

Are we capable of it?

I asked two mobility experts the question.

Ironically, when I reached Polytechnique Montréal professor Catherine Morency, she was heading to a conference titled “Bye bye, car?” “. The holder of the Canada Research Chair in Personal Mobility was as devastated as I by recent developments.

However, she is categorical: yes, in Quebec, we have the skills and expertise in transportation planning. The problem is that they are not integrated into territorial development. “When we develop a residential area, for example, we immediately think of the aqueduct and the roads,” she explains. However, we should also think about public transport. We should question people’s travel needs and ensure that public transportation is the backbone of future economic development (businesses, industries, etc.). »

We come back to the purpose of public transport: to meet the travel needs of people.

“With the REM, we chose the mode of transport before asking ourselves what the needs were,” says Catherine Morency. In the name of profitability, we have denied a fundamental principle of public transport: redundancy. Users must have more than one means of transportation to get to their destination. »


Catherine Morency, professor at Polytechnique Montréal

But the Fund eliminated competition in the name of profitability. People from the South Shore find themselves hostages of the REM. It’s an anti-user approach.

Catherine Morency, professor at Polytechnique Montréal

Before hanging up, Catherine Morency asked me a question so relevant that I made it the title of this column: “Are we asking the road network and sidewalks to be profitable? Well no ! We don’t ask the question, we build them. »

Thanks, but no thanks

Including public transport in regional development is also the point Florence Junca-Adenot insists on when I speak to her. The mobility expert and former president of the Metropolitan Transport Agency (ancestor of the ARTM) is categorical: there were two good public transport projects on the drawing board, very well planned, which integrated regional development : the Quebec City tramway and that of the South Shore of Montreal (the LÉEO project which even won an award of excellence).

These two projects would undoubtedly be further advanced if the provincial government had not asked the Caisse to get involved. This week, CDPQ Infra confirmed that it no longer had time for the South Shore project. Reaction from the mayors of Brossard and Longueuil: a big smile, even if we lost three years. That says a lot.

So what do we do now? According to Mme Junca-Adenot, the Legault government should show humility and put these two projects back on track. Are there any opponents of the tram? “Normally, there are them all the time,” the expert replies, tit for tat.


The French city of Bordeaux today has 79 km of tram lines.

When the mayor of Bordeaux, Alain Juppé, announced the construction of a tramway in his city, he faced strong opposition. He held his point, granted subsidies to businesses during the work, and when the tram was operational, everyone demanded one in their street.

Florence Junca-Adenot, mobility expert

Twenty years later, Bordeaux has 79 km of tram lines.

An agency for what to do

Two major obstacles are slowing down the development of public transport here: our unhealthy attachment to the car – I don’t know if it will ever be cured – and politics which slows down or derails excellent projects.

The Minister of Transport, Geneviève Guilbault, promises us the creation of a superagency which will be responsible for better planning public transport. But if Quebec does not become the champion of sustainable mobility (you know, these two words that the minister wanted to add to the name of her ministry), this superagency will only be an additional structure in the millefeuille of existing structures.

I might have the best food processor in the world, but if I can’t boil water, and if I’m not really interested in cooking, I won’t make better cakes.


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