Transportation governance | The art of taking responsibility

When a municipality offers public transportation, it offers a turnkey service to the population. It finances not only the basic infrastructure (roads), but also the rolling stock (buses), it takes into account the accessibility of households to stops, adds sidewalks accordingly, plans the lines according to the destination locations and schedules according to demand.

When the Quebec government builds a highway, it externalizes most of these costs. In effect, it delegates responsibility for rolling stock to households by asking them to pay for expensive vehicles that will remain parked for 95% of their useful life. It also leaves households to deal with congestion and travel planning. Through local roads, it ultimately delegates to municipalities the cost of accessibility to its infrastructure.

Don’t think that I necessarily have a favorable bias towards municipalities. Some of them plan their territory around the upper network in such a way as to avoid spending on a public transport service.

This is the whole drama of the 1990 reform. By dividing responsibilities, it constantly encourages the players in the system to seek to transfer part of their costs to another.

Current governance also favors short-sighted management and politicizes decisions. Elected officials are gloriously cutting the ribbon on oversized infrastructure, knowing that they will not have to bear the long-term costs of maintenance and repairs. Their mandate will be over. Good luck to the next one. In this regard, I have compassion for the minister who must deal with the decisions of her predecessors.

Due to governance, the elected officials who represent us have no interest in finding the best solution. One that would not only respect the ability of current and future taxpayers to pay, but would also be efficient, ecological and inclusive. Everyone is simply looking to reduce their expenses. It is not surprising to observe that the dispute percolates among the population. Motorists on one side and public transport on the other.

Having said all this, it is important to emphasize that it is the government of Quebec which bears the greatest share of responsibility in this story. He was the one who set the rules of the game in 1990 and only he can fix them.

The money always comes out of the taxpayer’s pocket

Elsewhere in the world, the debates are less political, less emotional. Decisions are guided by evidence and rigorous analysis. The aim is the well-being of the taxpayer, knowing that the money always comes out of his pocket, regardless of the nature of the tax paid.

Due to governance, we do not have any serious evaluation tool. For example, the benefit-cost analysis guide from the Quebec Ministry of Transport is designed to minimize government spending, regardless of the impacts on the finances of households, municipalities or the profitability of public transportation.

Governance ultimately has the effect of cultivating a culture of secrecy. The studies surrounding the third link are not the only ones that have not been made public.

The shelves of ministries and cities are overflowing with studies necessary for the population’s understanding of the issues, the establishment of an environment favorable to rational debates and objective decision-making. These studies are paid for by taxpayers and belong to the population.

If an agency is to be created, it must not only be independent of politics, but also be responsible for all modes and assume all costs, including maintenance. We must stop dividing responsibilities and thinking in silos.

What do you think ? Participate in the dialogue


Leave a Comment