Public transportation | Two researchers denounce Geneviève Guilbault’s approach

The Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Geneviève Guilbault, demonstrates a “vision of the 1970s” with her approach to public transport, denounce two researchers from Polytechnique Montréal. Catherine Morency, holder of the Mobility Chair, and Brigitte Bouchard-Milord, research associate at the same place, deconstruct four assertions by Mme Guilbault in parliamentary committee last week.

“We don’t have the luxury of passing our deficit elsewhere. »

“That’s not true. This is exactly what the government did in 1990. It had a funding deficit, it took part of its responsibilities (for public transport and local roads) and transferred it to the municipalities,” says Mme Bouchard-Milord. In return, the government committed to “retaining a significant participation in the financing of the investment expenditure of public transport organizations”. But “in practice”, if we add “the revenue collected from the gas tax and registration fees by Quebec and deduct the expenses of the higher network”, there remains only about 5%. of this income per year to improve the public transport offer.


The question of the operating deficit of transport companies was at the center of discussions during the study of the budgetary appropriations of the Ministry of Transport and Sustainable Mobility last week.

“I am totally desperate. I can’t believe that still in 2024, there isn’t an intelligent vision of transportation. We have a sustainable mobility policy, we know what it takes to reach our targets, we know that public transport is our main tool to make the transition we need, and none of that comes out,” deplores Mme Morency.

“The mission of the Quebec state is to manage the roads and not public transportation. »

“Correction”, say the researchers, it is a choice that the Quebec state made, not a fact. “It is supposed to manage transport in its entirety and have a Quebec vision of mobility,” laments Catherine Morency.

“The minister’s job is to set out a vision for transportation across Quebec. It must ask itself: how can I most efficiently move goods and people across Quebec to minimize total transport costs and minimize all externalities (such as pollution)? Respecting citizens’ ability to pay certainly does not mean telling them: buy yourself an electric tank. We’re not that stupid,” says Mme Morency.

“We must find other solutions than just transferring a deficit to the government, a deficit over which the government has no direct control because we are absolutely not involved in the management of transport companies. »

“We know the solutions,” says Catherine Morency. Kilometer tax or indexation of the tax on gasoline and registrations, ways to increase revenues have been studied for a long time.

But the deficits of transport companies are also inseparable from Quebec’s choices, since investments in the road network are in direct competition with public transport. Concrete example: Quebec is paying for the extension of Highway 19 to Bois-des-Filion and wants to put a lane reserved for public transportation. Except that “the profitability of the service is absolutely not studied”, while the motorway increases road capacity and can be used without toll by motorists. The consequence: “transport companies will bear the brunt of the deficit while the project is absolutely not designed to make public investments profitable or achieve any other sustainable mobility target”.

The other problem with this accounting vision, notes Mme Morency, is that transport companies offer a public service which must be fair. “If we manage it like a private company, you will cut lines that are not profitable. We saw it in interurban public transport in the regions,” she emphasizes.

However, they must allow people who do not have a car or cannot drive “to travel at less frequent times, in less frequent corridors”. “You can’t do stupid accounting exercises on something that is a public service,” she says.

“Public transportation in a given territory is first and foremost the responsibility of elected officials and managers of the given territory, and not of all 9 million Quebecers. »

“The government intends to sink billions of dollars from across Quebec into local projects like the third link or the Île d’Orléans bridge,” retort Mmy Morency and Bouchard-Milord.


The Île d’Orléans bridge must be replaced by a new structure.

Another example: Montrealers pay with their property taxes to maintain a local network of streets used by motorists who do not live there.

But beyond that, planning for public transport should be done across Quebec, they believe.

“In the Netherlands, the government has implemented a pricing scale and network continuity across the country. With an app, you can buy your local ticket, intercity ticket, then your other local ticket to go from point A to point B. In Quebec, it takes patience and courage to do that,” says Mme Bouchard-Milord. But since people often need to get out of town, “they end up buying a vehicle. And once you have your vehicle in your driveway, you use it for your urban trips,” she adds.


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