The real problem with Philippe Schnobb and the STM board

STM board of directors: politicians and failed politicians

STM board of directors: politicians and failed politicians

When news came out that Denis Coderre planned to appoint Philippe Schnobb as chair of the STM, there was some controversy. Projet Montréal councillors objected to the fact that Schnobb, a former Radio-Canada journalist, has no experience in public transit and no experience managing a large corporation. The fact that this was a patronage appointment — Schnobb ran for Coderre, losing to Richard Bergeron — just made it worse.

But one thing that hasn’t gotten as much attention (though it was mentioned at the city council meeting) is the nature of Schnobb’s appointment as the transit users’ representative on the STM board.

The STM board has 10 members, of whom six are Montreal city councillors, one represents a demerged municipality within the STM’s territory, and three represent transit users (of them, one represents paratransit users and another, recently added, represents users under age 35).

But these three positions are not elected by the transit users. Instead, they’re appointed by the agglomeration council, with no requirement to consult transit users first. And that opens the door to political patronage.

In 2005, Brenda Paris ran for a city council seat for Gérald Tremblay’s Montreal Island Citizens’ Union party. She lost to Line Hamel of Vision Montreal. She had already been on the STM’s board as the transit users’ representative. She was kept in that position even though she was effectively a politician, eventually becoming the president of the party. In 2009, I said this was an inappropriate use of this post.

In 2009, Michel Labrecque ran for the Plateau borough mayor’s job for Tremblay’s Union Montreal with the understanding that he would continue to head the STM, a job he had for less than a year while a city councillor. He lost to Luc Ferrandez of Projet Montréal. But Tremblay kept him on anyway, making him the transit users’ representative in addition to chair of the STM board. (Paris also lost in this election, but by then she had switched parties.) Again, I wrote that this was inappropriate. I like Labrecque, and believe he actually did a good job as STM chair, but that doesn’t make it less wrong that he was taking a seat meant for someone else.

In 2013, Philippe Schnobb ran for a city council seat for Denis Coderre’s team. He lost to Richard Bergeron. But Coderre did what had been done for Brenda Paris and Michel Labrecque, using the transit users’ representative post as a loophole to get Schnobb on the STM board.

Schnobb’s appointment raises a lot of questions. Was he promised this job as a failsafe if he didn’t get elected? (Returning to journalism is hard after running in a political campaign.) What, other than loyalty to a party, convinced Coderre that Schnobb was a good choice? Is this yet another indication that Coderre has no interest in changing the way politics are run at Montreal city hall?

I don’t object to Schnobb sitting on the STM board. That board has had plenty of people with questionable qualifications and lacklustre interest in public transit. He might even do a great job. But if this position on the board is going to be filled only with failed politicians as patronage appointments, then let’s cut the bullshit and just call it the failed politicians’ representative.

The issue isn’t just a semantic one. As great as Labrecque was as a chairperson, and as patient and inviting as he was during question period at STM board meetings, or with individual users he ran into on the bus or metro, Labrecque never really comported himself as a spokesperson for transit users, or a link between them and the STM. He was the STM. He never made any formal effort to consult with the people he was supposed to be representing, outside of the same internal methods that all STM board members use. If that system was broken, there’s no way he’d ever know. His contact information was never published on the STM’s website — not even an email address. Actual transit users had no way to get in touch with him directly unless they went to a meeting or ran into him on the street.

I also believe that the nature of Labrecque’s appointment, and Paris’s before him, resulted in a lack of transparency on the STM board. In all the meetings I’ve attended, never once has anyone cast a vote opposing a motion. Never once as anyone debated a motion. Never once has a vote even been called. Everything is approved unanimously, without discussion. Everything, without exception, is rubber-stamped.

Take the last STM board meeting. After some announcements and a question period, the formal meeting begins. It lasts exactly five minutes and 45 seconds, the time it takes to read, occasionally explain, and approve 20 motions. That works out to about 17 seconds each.

This is typical of the STM board. And is a symptom of the groupthink that pervades the organization’s administration.

Another symptom is the STM’s formal transparency issues. The complete lack of discussion about motions proposed at board meetings is reflected in the list of motions that’s published sometimes only hours before a meeting, and which provide very little information. After a meeting once, I approached the secretary to ask for a document that was passed at the meeting, a change to a bus route. I was told that I had to file a formal access-to-information request. (At the time, those requests could only be filed by written letter or by fax.)

Let me repeat that: In order to find out what the STM board had just approved before me minutes before, I had to formally file an access to information request. Just to find out what the nature was of a bus route change, I had to write a letter and perhaps wait weeks for a response.

As far as I’m aware, this policy remains. None of the documents approved at the latest meeting are available on the STM website, nor are they available for reading if you go to the meetings in person.

And I can’t ask my transit users’ representative what he just voted to approve, because he’s also the chair of the STM, and politically tied to the government in power.

I honestly believe that if there was someone sitting on the STM’s board that was there to seriously represent transit users, these issues would have been resolved long ago.

Again, I think Labrecque did a good job as the STM’s chair, except on the issue of transparency. (And maybe their awful media relations, but that’s a bit of inside baseball.) And if the agglomeration of Montreal wants to replace one of those city councillor seats with an open seat they can fill with political losers, be my guest.

But giving the title “transit users’ representative” to someone who citizens didn’t even want sitting on city council, and then on top of that making that person the chair of the board despite a glaring lack of qualifications… It’s just wrong.

When Labrecque was appointed, I referred to it as a “giant ‘fuck you’ to users.” I was really tempted to use the same vulgar language here. Philippe Schnobb does not represent me any more than Marvin Rotrand or Richard Bergeron (either of whom by the way would have made much better choices for STM chair). And experience with Schnobb’s predecessors has shown me that he’s unlikely to make an effort to try to care about my interests.

It’s unfortunate that one of Coderre’s first acts as mayor has been to repeat a political manoeuvre of his predecessor, and to put the needs of his political team first, at the expense of the people he’s supposed to be serving.

UPDATE: The STM’s executive puts out a statement praising Labrecque and the accomplishments the corporation has made over his tenure.

Meanwhile, La Presse has an interview with Labrecque, and Radio-Canada talks to Schnobb, who says he’s willing to publish his personal email address to increase communication with transit users.

27 thoughts on “The real problem with Philippe Schnobb and the STM board

  1. Michael

    If anyone really believes that there wasn’t an agreement between Coderre and Schnobb that if the latter lost his bid for city council that a job would be found for him after November 3rd following a Coderre win should contact me, I’ve got a great deal for them on a bridge in New York City. Of course there was a deal !! Schnobb didn’t give up a sure thing at Radio-Canada to roll the dice with a fickle electorate. The fix was in and it sets the tone for what we can expect from Coderre: more of the same.

    Reply
  2. emdx

    Labrecque was just a figurehead, just as Schnobb will be. So it’s really not a big deal that he was plonked down there by Coderre, just like Labrecque was plonked down there by Tremblay. Same shit, different taste.

    The STM is run by the high-powered civil servants, many of them who were hired by Hanigan, during the dark ages of the CTCUM, where it was expected that all it would do is run the most beautiful Métro in the world, and some token bus service to shut up those people who are too lazy to buy a car. Back then, when you called to complain about the bus service, you were told “why do you complain? We have the most beautiful subway in the world!”.

    Those big shots are only concerned with their carreers, and doing a bit what a transit system should do, move as many as people possible for the cheapest amount possible.

    This is why the newest buses have a minimal amount of seats, in order to cram as many standees as possible. By contrast, in Ottawa, buses have seats all over the place, and if they could put seats on the ceiling, they would do that (actually, they do — with those newfangled double-deckers buses, who even have signs inside telling people that they should not be standing up!).

    That cheap mindset is obvious, because when the city unveiled the articulated buses some years ago, after stepping aboard, I was so disgusted by the pitifully low amount of seats, and that most seats do not even let passengers look outside of the buses that I went straight to Marvin the Martian and told him outright that it was so disgusting that the people who choose the buses obviously do not ride the buses themselves, and that it was a total disgrace to have buses setup like that at great expanse, because a truck box would have done exactly the same job for much cheaper. Of course, Marvin was totally aghast that one lowly peon would even DARE question HIS wisdom that he was speechless. I was nearly expecting some heavy breathing before an utterance of “ooh, I am very angry!!!” while he pulled out his disintegrator upon me, but that did not happen, as some STM flunky came up to me and told me in a disgusted tone that “we could have ordered buses with no seats at all”…

    This is indicative of the totally awful mentality the STM has towards users, and most especially bus users; case in point, the Lionel-Groulx bus terminal is a perfect example of the contempt the STM has towards the bus service; the new terminal is far away from the Métro station, and the shelters are woefully ineffective to protect users from the weather. And, just like 47 years ago when the Métro opened, 97% of bus users are stuck waiting for their buses in the weather once they get out of the Métro, while South Shore bus users are pampered with expansive indoor terminals at Longueuil and Downtown.

    Make no mistake about it, there is great talent in the STM, it’s just that there is totally no political will towards improving the service, as the old Drapeau cronies still run the STM as an agency to provide minimal service because REAL MEN buy cars, just like it was 50 years ago.

    The STM only fixes something when it is utterly broke; this is why they waited for so long to get replacement trains…

    Reply
  3. Dilbert

    This story (and EMDX’s comments) show exactly why public transit continues to be a massive sink hole of money that can’t manage to get more than it’s own captive audience on board. The system seems to be run by people who don’t care, managed by a series of levels of people who seem mostly intent on making sure everyone gets the biggest paycheck possible while giving the public the least amount of quality service possible for the cost.

    Patronage appointments are a symptom of the disease. The real sickness is that the transit companies generally are not run for the benefit of the public, but for the benefit of those who work there. More over, patronage appointments tend to be the first step in the almost inevitable chain of corruption, with the political masters prompting their appointees to approve expenditures that lead to mutual benefits for everyone except the riders. In a transit system that loses money hand over first every year, it’s amazing how much money is spent on things that just don’t work out or that aren’t really needed.

    I doubt that any of the members of this board actually use their own product on a daily basis. That disconnect means they never have to suffer the expensive, sub-par service that they help to create.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      This story (and EMDX’s comments) show exactly why public transit continues to be a massive sink hole of money that can’t manage to get more than it’s own captive audience on board.

      I have seen no evidence that the STM in particular, or public transit in general, is a “massive sink hole of money”. In fact, it’s considered pretty well managed.

      managed by a series of levels of people who seem mostly intent on making sure everyone gets the biggest paycheck possible while giving the public the least amount of quality service possible for the cost.

      I don’t know what “everyone” means in this context. And I’ve seen no evidence that the STM’s service offering has been made more inefficient. In fact, the STM has surpassed its quantitative service improvement goals.

      The real sickness is that the transit companies generally are not run for the benefit of the public, but for the benefit of those who work there.

      I’ve seen no evidence of this.

      More over, patronage appointments tend to be the first step in the almost inevitable chain of corruption, with the political masters prompting their appointees to approve expenditures that lead to mutual benefits for everyone except the riders.

      In all the corruption stories and allegations that have come out through media reporting and the Charbonneau Commission, as far as I can remember exactly zero involve the STM.

      In a transit system that loses money hand over first every year, it’s amazing how much money is spent on things that just don’t work out or that aren’t really needed.

      In a transit system that loses money hand over first every year

      The STM’s $1.2-billion budget is balanced.

      it’s amazing how much money is spent on things that just don’t work out or that aren’t really needed.

      Like what?

      I doubt that any of the members of this board actually use their own product on a daily basis.

      Labrecque and Rotrand use it constantly. I’m not familiar with the transit habits of the rest of the board. Coderre (who doesn’t use public transit much himself) says that Schnobb is a regular transit user.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        “I have seen no evidence that the STM in particular, or public transit in general, is a “massive sink hole of money”. In fact, it’s considered pretty well managed.”

        By who, exactly? 1.2 billion as a “balanced” budget but less than half of it paid by operations tells you that this is an expensive undertaking. It’s about $1000 per citizen per year to run this deal, that is pretty big burden, financially. With less than half of that covered by users, and with less than half the population paying taxes (on average) that leaves a pretty big burden for people less likely to use the service.

        ” I’ve seen no evidence that the STM’s service offering has been made more inefficient. ”

        STM spent years and years degrading service, longer times between metros, and so on. They have only in the last 5 – 6 years picked it back up, but has faced numerous breakdowns, issues, troubles, and technical glitches that routinely shut the metro system down.

        “the STM has surpassed its quantitative service improvement goals.”

        They appear to set their own goals. It’s not hard to hit the target when you tape it on the end of the gun.

        “In all the corruption stories and allegations that have come out through media reporting and the Charbonneau Commission, as far as I can remember exactly zero involve the STM.”

        Since there are no current large scale projects underway, there is little hope that anything will turn up. However, you only have to go back to the Laval metro extension to see what happens, with cost overruns left and right and few controls. You can be certain that more than a few lined their pockets at that pig through of money.

        “The STM’s $1.2-billion budget is balanced.”

        A balanced budget doesn’t mean profitable of breaking even, does it? Balancing the budget mostly involves getting more taxpayer money.

        “Like what?”

        Fancy bus shelter (where basic ones would do) is a great and current example. Why spent a ton of money to go all hi-tech when basic structures that work would probably do a better job anyway?

        “Labrecque and Rotrand use it constantly. ”

        I stand corrected on those two, if true. It’s exceedingly rare to see anyone in a business suit in the Montreal transit system, especially anyone who has a higher end position in life. The lack of air conditioning and proper ventilation makes the system inadequate for those properly dressed for a more formal office setting.

        For what it’s worth, I couldn’t turn up a single “Rotrand on the bus or metro” image on Google, at least none that were not part of a press release pose.

        The point is that if the only transit system you are aware of and familiar with is Montreal, then you could be forgiven for thinking it’s good. However, the system fails massively in providing a viable alternative to automobile travel, and I can assure you from experience that many of the people riding the bus and metro to work are saving their pennies so they can one day afford a car. Public transit in Montreal isn’t a great way to get around, it’s the last choice before paying for taxis. People put up with traffic jams and hard to find parking because it’s still a better option.

        Extending the blue line is a perfect example of missing the point, while hitting self-created targets to justify the expense. Providing marginally better service to a group that is already well served with metro and express bus systems is a true waste of money, and it does little to attract new rideship or provide the type of alternative that gets people to leave their cars at home. It offers a “quantitative service improvement” for people already using the system, but is on par with adding a pickle to a shit sandwich – it’s still a shit sandwich, but it tastes marginally better. Nobody is lining up for it, only those who must are eating it.

        It would be amazing to see what the public transit system would look like if it had to be self supporting and self-justifying. You can bet many of those near empty buses roaming around the city making pollution and not much else would get parked pretty quick.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          1.2 billion as a “balanced” budget but less than half of it paid by operations tells you that this is an expensive undertaking.

          Yes, it is very expensive. About $1.2-billion a year expensive.

          STM spent years and years degrading service, longer times between metros, and so on. They have only in the last 5 – 6 years picked it back up, but has faced numerous breakdowns, issues, troubles, and technical glitches that routinely shut the metro system down.

          Why is the current board of directors responsible for things that happened years ago, and not given credit for the improvements that have happened during their mandate?

          As for the “numerous breakdowns” etc., a lot of that has to do with the 40-year-old rolling stock, which they are very eager to replace (but unfortunately much of the responsibility for that lies with the Quebec government). Service disruptions at the STM also aren’t abnormally high compared to similar systems, despite its aged equipment. And, of course, we should note that half of service disruptions are caused by users.

          They appear to set their own goals. It’s not hard to hit the target when you tape it on the end of the gun.

          Actually, the PASTEC program to improve public transit was set by the Quebec government. It called for a 16% increase in service and an 8% increase in ridership over five years (2007-11). The STM surpassed both of those.

          Since there are no current large scale projects underway, there is little hope that anything will turn up.

          The Charbonneau Commission’s mandate goes back 15 years. That covers the entire Laval métro extension, the Réno-Systèmes program, plus ongoing operations. And I’m pretty sure the replacement of hundreds of metro cars is considered a current large-scale project.

          However, you only have to go back to the Laval metro extension to see what happens, with cost overruns left and right and few controls. You can be certain that more than a few lined their pockets at that pig through of money.

          Setting aside that the Laval metro extension was an AMT project, not an STM one, I’m not aware of any evidence that the cost overruns of that project involved any misappropriation of funds.

          A balanced budget doesn’t mean profitable of breaking even, does it?

          Actually it does mean breaking even. If your goal is that public transit should receive no taxpayer funding, that’s a different argument.

          Fancy bus shelter (where basic ones would do) is a great and current example. Why spent a ton of money to go all hi-tech when basic structures that work would probably do a better job anyway?

          The shelters are being paid for by Quebecor, not the STM.

          Public transit in Montreal isn’t a great way to get around

          Why?

          It would be amazing to see what the public transit system would look like if it had to be self supporting and self-justifying.

          It would run only during rush hour and wouldn’t serve half the island.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “Why is the current board of directors responsible for things that happened years ago, and not given credit for the improvements that have happened during their mandate?”

            The previous boards / leaders / operators shrank and diminished the service. The increases in server the current patronage appointees are bringing are not over the best service in the past, but over the heavily diminished services of the previous group. They aren’t responsible for what came before, but it’s sort of silly to praise them for almost getting service levels back to where it was a decade or more ago.

            “Actually, the PASTEC program to improve public transit was set by the Quebec government.”

            Case closed. Goals set by the same groups of people who have to “meet” them. One group tapes the target on the end of the gun, the other group pulls the trigger, and everyone claps.

            “Setting aside that the Laval metro extension was an AMT project, not an STM one, I’m not aware of any evidence that the cost overruns of that project involved any misappropriation of funds.”

            Considering the ex-mayor of Laval and many others are deep in the shit right now, I would say it’s not all done. There is all sorts of things going all the way back to land deals and such, long before the digging started. The cost overruns on that project alone were mind boggling, and if you don’t think people lined their pockets on it, well…

            “It would run only during rush hour and wouldn’t serve half the island.”

            Yup, so accepting that concept, you can understand that the system isn’t “break even”, it’s a sink hole, with taxpayers forced to toss hundreds of millions of dollars in every year to keep it functioning. Put another way, your monthly pass is subsidized by the taxpayers (including yourself, I guess) to the tune of about $800-$1000 a year. You cannot with a straight face call the system break even on that basis.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              The increases in server the current patronage appointees are bringing are not over the best service in the past, but over the heavily diminished services of the previous group.

              I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that we’re just at the same level of service that we were at in the 1990s or whatever your benchmark is. There are a lot of bus routes running now that didn’t exist then, a lot of bus routes that have far more service than they did then, and a lot of aspects of the STM’s service that is different from what it was then. And it’s not like the STM board can control how much funding they get from the government.

              Case closed. Goals set by the same groups of people who have to “meet” them.

              I don’t see how the Quebec government, elected by the people, and the STM board, appointed by the Montreal agglomeration council (who are in turn elected by Montrealers) are at all the “same groups of people”.

              The cost overruns on that project alone were mind boggling, and if you don’t think people lined their pockets on it, well…

              My mind remains pretty unboggled. I’m not saying there was no corruption involved, but let’s not assume there was unless there’s evidence to show it. You don’t even know who supposedly lined their pockets in this project.

              Yup, so accepting that concept, you can understand that the system isn’t “break even”, it’s a sink hole, with taxpayers forced to toss hundreds of millions of dollars in every year to keep it functioning.

              By that definition, police, firefighters, highways, water systems and our entire health care and education systems are “sink holes”. Should we privatize all of those too?

              Reply
              1. Dilbert

                “By that definition, police, firefighters, highways, water systems and our entire health care and education systems are “sink holes”. Should we privatize all of those too?”

                Really a very unfair comparison, isn’t it? Law and order and public safety don’t stand up compared to public transport. Law and order is a requirement for a civilized society, public transport is a bonus over the top, which sadly cannot and will not support itself in any manner. Last time I looked, the budget for the two main services (fire and police) were lower than running the buses. The government money for buses (excluding all the stuff done outside of the STM budget) was more than the cost of policing. How odd is that?

                “I don’t think it’s fair to suggest that we’re just at the same level of service that we were at in the 1990s or whatever your benchmark is.”

                It’s pretty fair – you have access to the Gazoo archives, go back and look at all of the stories in the past about metro service reductions, longer time between trains, and so on. Think about the levels of service versus the booming population, look at how outside of the 3 metro stations in Laval how poorly the regional systems are integrated, and how so on. Look at the service improvements versus the costs involved, such as reserved bus lanes and such which cordon off part of the public roadway for exclusive use, which is frightening expensive to do and often nowhere near as effective as they desire.

                Consider the huge populations to the West, North, and South that are poorly served. Decades of playing poorly with others continues to be an ongoing problem, making it pretty much a given that people from those areas will be in cars and not on buses, Metros, or trains.

                Consider the insanity that a large percentage of commuters come to the Downtown core from off island, and then look at the systems in place. In the near 50 year history of the metro system, we have only a tiny footprint in the south shore, and a tiny footprint in Laval, yet huge traffic jams every day of people who cannot or will not take the current public transit offerings… and nothing solid coming up to resolve it. The STM’s response to the obvious needs? Let’s extend the blue line to slightly reduce travel times for a group of already well served commuters.

                The STM system doesn’t work well for today’s decentralized city. It hasn’t kept pace with the commercial, industrial, and residential buildups around the island. Someone who lives Montreal North and works in Lasalle is doomed to drive, because the public transit will just take too long. Someone who lives in the West Island and works in the St Laurent Industrial park either learns to walk a lot or drives, and when it’s -10 outside, it’s hard to face the walk.

                The performance of the system for those who are well served (and were well served before) is probably as good or better. The service to everyone, well, it leaves a lot to be desired. Only the STM can turn a 10 minute drive into an hour long commute and a nice long walk in the rain, snow, or cold.

              2. Fagstein Post author

                Law and order is a requirement for a civilized society, public transport is a bonus over the top

                Public transport is considered an essential service, at least during rush hour. The reason is simple: Without it, traffic would grind the city to a halt. I would argue that the city needs a working transportation system to function properly.

                Last time I looked, the budget for the two main services (fire and police) were lower than running the buses. The government money for buses (excluding all the stuff done outside of the STM budget) was more than the cost of policing. How odd is that?

                The SPVM gets $600 million a year in public funding, which is about 90% of its budget. The fire department gets a little over $300 million. The STM gets about half its budget ($670 million out of $1.3 billion) from contributions from the municipal and provincial governments. Of the STM’s total budget, about half is to run the bus network, a quarter to run the metro and a quarter for everything else (management, support services, planning, HR, finance etc.)

                Depending on how you define everything, we’re paying about as much for public transit in Montreal as we are for police services. I don’t find that particularly odd, since public transit is an expensive thing to run.

                It’s pretty fair – you have access to the Gazoo archives, go back and look at all of the stories in the past about metro service reductions, longer time between trains, and so on.

                It’s hard to find stories that give a quantitative picture here. But in any case, the STM’s budget relies on the funding it gets from the city and government sources. The STM’s board isn’t responsible for how much money it gets, but rather what they do with it.

                reserved bus lanes and such which cordon off part of the public roadway for exclusive use, which is frightening expensive to do and often nowhere near as effective as they desire.

                It’s lines painted on pavement and a few signs on the side of the road. How is that “frightening expensive”? And La Presse showed recently that the reserved lane leading to the Champlain Bridge made a bus trip half an hour less than a car trip during rush hour. I’d say that’s pretty effective.

                In the near 50 year history of the metro system, we have only a tiny footprint in the south shore, and a tiny footprint in Laval

                And eventually they want to make those footprints bigger. In the meantime both Laval and the South Shore have very well developed bus networks. But I don’t see how any of this has to do with the STM’s board.

                Someone who lives Montreal North and works in Lasalle is doomed to drive, because the public transit will just take too long.

                For fun, I just threw that into Google Maps. It shows that the trip would take an hour and a half by public transit during rush hour. The drive takes about 35 minutes, but that’s assuming there’s no traffic on the Metropolitan or Decarie expressways or Highway 20. If we make a reasonable assumption of 20 minutes of extra travel time for traffic on both the Met and Decarie, then the difference becomes pretty small.

                Trips that don’t go downtown will probably always be better by car. That’s just the way the system works. Michel Labrecque didn’t invent that.

              3. Fagstein Post author

                One off situation or canary in the coal mine?

                It’s hard to say. They might find stuff, or might not. There’s certainly a lot of money in the STM. But so far there’s no evidence that anything illegal happened. (Or that it’s the result of direct actions by the STM board.)

        2. emdx

          Oh, boy, oh boy! I love that kind of totally clueless ranting!!!!

          By who, exactly? 1.2 billion as a “balanced” budget but less than half of it paid by operations tells you that this is an expensive undertaking. It’s about $1000 per citizen per year to run this deal, that is pretty big burden, financially. With less than half of that covered by users, and with less than half the population paying taxes (on average) that leaves a pretty big burden for people less likely to use the service.

          $1000 per citizen per year is a pittance compared to what the absence of the STM would incur: total gridlock. And everyone would pay far more than $1000 per year to maintain the roads needed to not serve sufficiently the number of cars needed to perform what the STM does, and people would pay $10,000 per year (official CAA figures) to own the car needed.

          So, $1000 per year per citizen is a bargain indeed. And it would remain so even at $5000 per year!!!

          Extending the blue line is a perfect example of missing the point, while hitting self-created targets to justify the expense. Providing marginally better service to a group that is already well served with metro and express bus systems is a true waste of money, and it does little to attract new rideship or provide the type of alternative that gets people to leave their cars at home.

          It’s not really the STM’s fault; it has a tiny mandate compared to what needs to be done globally.

          In reality, what should be done is to completely do away with the AMT and all the CITs and other chickenshit “transit” “services” suburbs put up to pay lip service to the idea of public transportation, and instead merge the whole shebang into a super-STM that would be financed by compulsory taxes without any political input in order to do what has to be done.

          In addition, the STM shall be responsible for managing the roads and streets, and be encouraged to take the measures necessary to discourage private automobile use, in order to provide good, sustainable public transit. Suburbs have enjoyed their free-lunch at the expense of Montréal enough; now it’s time to pay the piper.

          A lot of people are big fans of personal responsibility; well, all those who made the lifestyle choice to move to the suburbans have to face the consequences of their choice.

          70 years ago, the Montréal Tramways Company was one of the most profitable venture there was, and it all went away when the government started to subsidize automobiles.

          Well, let’s turn back the clock; private automobiles are both an ecological and economic dead-end. Carheads have their brains so much atrophied by the gas fumes from their cars that they cannot see the common-sense, so they will have to be strong-armed out of their cars, and forced upon transit.

          This way, mass-transit will cease to be a burden on the taxpayers, and become again profitable. And the Economy of Québec will improve, thanks to no having 20% of it’s GDP siphonned abroad thanks to road transport.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            emdx, I now live in a public transit paradise, but it only got that way because the offering of public transit was made better than the offerings of driving a car – not the other way around. The transit is all operated by private companies who’s fares are set through government control, and the companies all operate on a profit motive.

            The biggest company in transit (that runs the subways and trains) is also a large landholder, a private company that have wisely turned the land on which their transit projects into income sources, with residental and commercial projects.

            All of the companies involve use an integrated pay system, which is entirely “pay per use / pay per distance” model. You put funds on your card, and you use it to pay for travel. For those people who don’t use it, they don’t pay for it, pure and simple.

            Oh yeah, for a population of 7 million or so, the trains alone average nearly 5 million trips per day (not weekday, but averaged ALL days including holidays). That doesn’t consider the number of trips taken by bus, mini bus, private charters, and the like.

            It has gotten that way because the public transit system is efficient, effective, continues to grow, modern, clean, maintained, air conditioned, and serves the people where they need it, both where they live and where they work. It’s a system so effective that the passenger mix is “everyone”. Courrier companies stopped using surface vehicles or bikes for most deliveries and use the transit system, it’s that much more efficient and effective.

            They didn’t do it by making the roads bad, some of the biggest and most amazing bridges and tunnels have been built here for the roads, and there is a current bridge / tunnel project (started in 2009 to finish in 2016) that will add a a 50 km long bridge tunnel connection to two key points. The highways are modern, wide, and well financed with tolls and such.

            The public transit wins because it’s a good service, offered at a good price – with modern equipment, timely service, and a clean and safe environment. They didn’t have to go block the roads to do it either.

            Blaming car drivers for a bad public transit system is stupid, considering in Quebec much of the funding for public transit comes from taxes on pump gas. Drivers in Quebec already pay about the highest taxes on gas in North America (36%). Even at that, public transit is STILL not a valid alternative for many, because of poor public transit offerings and the low density nature of Quebec.

            Trying to force people onto poor public transport gets results – businesses relocate outside of the city to get away from traffic, and smaller cities all around the Montreal area work to improve their “downtown” areas to support those people. It’s not a big thing right now, but already you can see plenty of businesses that have moved away from the downtown core and are relocating around the island, and that trend is continues. It’s only a matter of time before you start seeing bigger and bigger commercial / office developments off island as people flee oppressive measures such as an intentionally hobbled road system to block personal travel.

            You keep thinking stick when you should be thinking carrot. Make the public transit system something desirable, something that truly meets the needs of people who are not currently using it, and they will flock to it. Beating them over the head with a big stick and dragging them into the system won’t make them happy about it, and they will spend their time looking for other alternatives, including changing jobs – and companies will be forced to consider relocation to be attractive to get new employees.

            Reply
  4. beeg

    Thirteen hundred words later, I was expecting a proposal for reform. If your issue is that this is a patronage appointment (or, more to the point, that mayors treat it like a *partisan* patronage appointment), should it be elected instead? Should we just ditch it? Should the mayor not control who runs the transit corporation?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Thirteen hundred words later, I was expecting a proposal for reform.

      Well, I suggested reforming the board so we don’t pretend that patronage appointments are really people representing transit users. It’s not like we can have a separate election for the STM board. But my main suggestion isn’t something that can be codified in the law. It’s a culture change that needs to happen.

      Reply
      1. beeg

        Isn’t the appointment of someone competent, like Labrecque, enough of a culture change? Can you be more specific about what might push the STM culture in the right direction? Your reply Dilbert above suggests you find the STM’s performance to be at least adequate…

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          Isn’t the appointment of someone competent, like Labrecque, enough of a culture change?

          Competence is not the problem. It’s transparency and accountability. A dictatorship can be well run, but that doesn’t mean we want it.

          Can you be more specific about what might push the STM culture in the right direction?

          Finding some way of consulting with transit users to find their representative would be a good start. Not appointing political losers to their seat would be the least they could do. I’m also not crazy about the idea of having the transit users’ representative be the chairperson, especially if that person is appointed by city council. Labrecque’s duties as chair and as the public face of the organization meant less time to consult with people. Though I do like the idea that the chairperson not be someone who has to worry about city council duties on top of that.

          Reply
          1. emdx

            . I’m also not crazy about the idea of having the transit users’ representative be the chairperson, especially if that person is appointed by city council.

            THIS.

            I used to be in Transport-2000 20-25 years ago, but it lost it’s glimmer since it has degenerated into a favour-sucking circlejerk. Not a single time Transport-2000 has ever talked about the poor bus terminus accommodations (if any), or simply addressed the daily issues transit riders face (except maybe their yearly howls about fares rising above the inflation level).

            Wanna bet that we’re gonna have a $80 bus pass next year???

            Reply
  5. Fr. George

    Maybe you know the answer, Steve. How much are STM board members paid? is it an annual salary or on a per meeting basis? I think this is an important component of this story.

    George +

    Reply
  6. Ant6n

    Hey, the STM listens to it’s users – remember when we were allowed to pick the color scheme of the metro …among three astonishing possibilities of blue and white, white and blue and blue and white?!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Hey, the STM listens to it’s users – remember when we were allowed to pick the color scheme of the metro …among three astonishing possibilities of blue and white, white and blue and blue and white?!

      The name, too. Both were kind of silly attempts at consultation.

      Reply
    2. R.

      Love that post.

      As an aside, doesn’t the STM normally announce their fares by now? I’m sure journalists already have their pre-written story about how we pay the lowest in North America or how fares have jumped 6500000000% in the past millenium.

      Reply
      1. Fagstein Post author

        As an aside, doesn’t the STM normally announce their fares by now?

        Yes, but they decided to wait until a new board was appointed, which happened yesterday. That means the new fares will be approved at the next STM board meeting next week.

        Reply
  7. Julien

    I’m surprised at your surprise about how politics operates at the board level in Quebec – including smaller municipalities, school boards, hospitals and many other public institutions that consitute “self-government”. It’s the foundation of what we call Quebec’s culture of secrecy. But I commend you, as the media rarely covers its mechanics – even if we read of and hear a lot of handwringing in editorials, etc. I’ll throw in my own example as I am a school board trustee. I was informed of a lawsuit against the school board this week and briefly shown the statement of claim, a public document deposited in the court. I was refused a copy, however, and told I should file an access request or go down to the courthouse myself! I had a good laugh over it, because it shows that in Quebec, even public documents are deemed secret – if first they are deemed embarrassing!

    Reply

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