The comments set out below are authorized by the financial agent of the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA) and are the sole responsibility of CUTA.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of people depend on public transit in Quebec: low-income workers who do not own a car, students who go to CEGEP and university, seniors and people with reduced mobility who depend on it for their essential daily travel.
In short, public transit is essential for the vitality of cities and for a large number of Quebecers. However, the sector was hit hard by the pandemic and was thrown into an unprecedented financial crisis.
Governments recognized this situation with the security revival agreement reached between Ottawa and the provinces last year. This agreement made it possible to set up emergency funding of $ 1.4 billion for public transit in Quebec.
However, this funding will soon expire and without additional support, public transit runs the risk of a historic decline. That is why we consider it a priority in this election to maintain and protect the services already offered.
Even before the arrival of COVID-19, the sector was already underfunded, after years of development without a significant increase in income. Almost half of the operating costs were covered by the tariffs collected from customers.
But for each 10% drop in ridership, Quebec’s public transit networks have to deal with a shortfall of $ 105 million per year. However, current ridership corresponds to about a third of the levels prevailing before the pandemic.
Users are already returning and more will be returning in the future as offices reopen and immigration continues. But without permanent financial support, we risk seeing service cuts that could precipitate public transport into a downward spiral.
These cuts could also push users to leave public transit, causing further loss of income and further reductions in service.
The effects of such a cycle could be long lasting. During the 1990s, government cuts, combined with declining revenues, led to significant service cuts. It took 20 years for ridership to recover.
Quebec and Canada must avoid such stagnation, since traffic problems are likely to intensify, climate objectives will become more difficult to achieve and inequalities will increase.
The most important factor in ensuring ridership in public transit is the level of service, so if it is not reliable and sufficient, customers will look to other options. In 2020, nearly three-quarters of Canadians who left public transit abandoned it in favor of the car. In a climate emergency context, public transport is an essential and profitable means of making cities more sustainable.
Service cuts could also harm economic recovery, in a context of labor shortages, since thousands of Quebecers depend on public transit. Some may have to wait longer or walk miles to get to their jobs, do their shopping, and attend cultural or sporting events.
The federal government is currently supporting major development projects in Quebec, in particular the Metropolitan Express Network (REM) or the extension of the blue line.
These investments must be applauded, but cities must now have the means to maintain their networks and to run new buses, subways and trains.
Ridership will not return to pre-pandemic levels overnight. We cannot allow public transit to collapse while waiting for its ridership to recover. And it is not by offering a reduced and infrequent service that we will recover the missing users.
Public transit is important for many people, for the quality of life, the productivity of our cities and for the climate measures to be taken.
We believe that any party that will form the government must collaborate with the Premier of Quebec and the other premiers to extend financial assistance, because the protection and maintenance of public transit services are in the national interest. .