The nitty-gritty of public consultations

Whoever said “there are no stupid questions” has probably never been to a public consultation meeting, where anyone from the general public, gifted only with a lot of free time, can ask any un-pre-screened question to important-looking bureaucrats in front of an audience.

Last week, I went to a public consultation of the STM in Côte-des-Neiges, hoping there would be some interesting developments to report about transit improvements to the area (and Montreal in general). I figured that even if the presentation was a bust, some of the questions from the public would spark interesting answers.

Naturally, I was disappointed.

But perhaps I’m being unfair calling them stupid questions. Because many of them weren’t questions.

Instead, they were 10-minute diatribes about how someone was late to work one morning and the bus didn’t show up that one time, or general demands for things the representatives there were obviously powerless to do anything about. Other demands seemed illogical or contradictory. Few of them were useful.

The meeting gave me quite a bit more respect for Marvin Rotrand, a city councillor and vice-president of the STM, who has to sit through these kinds of meetings on a regular basis, and clearly recognized many of the people he called up to speak as people who regularly take advantage of opportunities to speak their minds.

Still, some interesting tidbits did emerge from the hours-long meeting:

  • Starting next month, service on the 11 Montagne route will be extended to midnight from its current 9pm daily, since services on the mountain are open until midnight. The bigger problem of buses unable to climb the steep Ridgewood Ave. during winter will hopefully be solved in the future by improvements to the buses.
  • Service on the 103 Monkland will be improved outside of rush hour starting in September.
  • More Abribus bus shelters are being installed on the network in NDG/Côte-des-Neiges, to bring the ratio from 37% to 40% of stops.
  • Hampstead Mayor Bill Steinberg was particularly concerned about the 51 Boulevard Edouard-Montpetit bus route because he says it has a tendency to block the intersection of Queen Mary and Ellerdale (I’ve taken the bus through there many times and never seen it happen, but whatever). He wants it rerouted via Stratford and Cote-St-Luc to somehow avoid this problem, and he wants a guarantee that no articulated buses will be used on the route.
  • Five buses will be added to the STM’s busiest rush-hour route, the 535 R-Bus Du Parc/Côte-des-Neiges, starting in September, in order to deal with crowding problems. 200 articulated buses (beyond the current test vehicles) will come into service starting later next year as the STM simultaneously increases its fleet from 1700 to 1950 buses.
  • The STM is looking at installing bike racks on buses.
  • One testy issue was about strollers. Moms are upset because there isn’t enough space on crowded buses for their giant strolling machines. In response, rather than asking clients to use simple foldable strollers, they’re turning the wheelchair area on low-floor buses into wheelchair/stroller areas.
  • First-generation LFS low-floor buses (16, 17 and 18 series buses from 1996-98 which are considered lemons if not death traps) will be phased out by 2010. It’s unclear whether their retirements will come before those of the high-floor Classic buses which preceded them.
  • Among the recommendations from the public:
    • Limited-stop bus service between the two legs of the orange line (along Van Horne, Jean-Talon, Sauvé/Côte-Vertu, for example), doubling up on existing local routes. This may seem unnecessary because of the existence of the blue line, but I have found it easier to take the 121 between Sauvé and Côte-Vertu than to take a metro detour through three trains.
    • Spend more money cleaning up bus shelters, because “once in a while isn’t good enough.” No recommendations, of course, on where this new money should come from. Higher fares? Higher taxes? Less service? All of those sound really appealing so we don’t see as much litter.
    • Setup commuter train stations at Namur and Canora along the Montreal-Blainville line.
    • There should be more reserved lanes so people can get to their destinations faster
    • There should be fewer reserved lanes because they take away parking and hurt local businesses
    • Bus stops should be spaced further apart so the buses stop less
    • Bus stops should be spaced further together so people don’t have to walk as much
    • Bus fares should be raised so that more money can be put into better services
    • Bus fares should be decreased so that the poor have access to transit
    • Poor people should have a special poor-people’s pass
    • All non-PSA advertising should be removed from buses and metros (again, no recommendations of what should replace the loss of revenue or what services should be cut)

Another West Island-specific consultation will take place in Pierrefonds on June 11.

UPDATE (May 24): For the record, The Suburban also covered this meeting.

11 thoughts on “The nitty-gritty of public consultations

  1. Guillaume Theoret

    I’m generally happy with the way the STM deals with most of its problems. My pet “demand” is metros until 3am but everyone has something they want that the STM doesn’t have the budget for. Hopefully more money will soon be invested. I think more and more people will be taking public transit as they feel the financial burn of driving to work every day with gas prices soaring forever higher. If the STM doesn’t get more investment crowded times are ahead.

  2. Guillaume Theoret

    Is the picture in the post from that night? I just noticed that everyone looks at least 40-something. Was there anyone there (other than you) any younger? What was the overall demographic like?

  3. Fagstein Post author

    There were a few younger people there, some even asked some interesting questions. But by far the demographic was skewed toward older people.

  4. Shawn

    Thanks for sitting through this meeting and all the dumb questions, and posting this. Seems that everything I learn about transit changes, I learn from Fagstein. Will you be attending the June 11 meeting?

    Incidentally, I just got back from NYC, where taking public transit is always one of my fun experiences. One observation: even with a reported upsurge of graffiti in New York, stations, buses and shelters are vastly less defaced than here in Montreal.

  5. James Lawlor

    Many of the people that attended that meeting are also regular attendees of the NDG borough council meetings. I’m only 38 so I hope I miss your 40-something demographic that you are talking about.

    I’m actually in the photo as well. I’m on the left-hand-side of the photo with my arm draped on the back of a chair.

    I have to agree with you that there were lots of comments that were not very relevant. Such as: I live on the west Island and didn’t hear about the meeting, AMT should create new train stations, and one metro car didn’t have enough grab bars etc…

    Did you hang around to listen to my pearls of wisdom? I was second-last person to speak!
    1) The intersection of Cote-Vertu and Gothier needs to be modified to allow buses to turn left into the AMT Cote-Vertu bus terminal from the reserved bus lane (which is on the right side).

    2) Metro stations need bike storage lockers (I blogged about this on my blog here:

    3) We need tramways back in the city. Mr. Rotrand is not in favour of them because he thinks you can get the same result for less cost with bus rapid transit. My response is that you get what you pay for and that the cities in Europe, Dubai, Houston aren’t crazy.

  6. Fagstein Post author

    I don’t know if I’ll be there June 11 because (1) I already know about the West Island route changes, (2) The West Island is far from here, and (3) I don’t know if I’m working that night.

    As for the suggestions:

    1. That sounds both impractical and potentially dangerous. There’s a good reason you don’t turn left from a right-hand lane. Either make the left-hand lane a bus lane or, much more practically, have buses like the 470 drop off passengers at the southern entrance.

    2. Storage lockers sound interesting, but bulky, expensive and hard to maintain. Certainly worthy of study, but I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet.

    3. I’m not sure about installing tramways. The Gazette’s Henry Aubin made a convincing case a while ago (can’t find a link unfortunately) that electric trolley cars would be better than tramways because they are less expensive per vehicle, and more maneuvrable.

  7. Peter

    I find the comments interesting regarding how these public meetings function. In a democracy, it’s important that people have a right to speak their mind. At the same time, though, it tends to impede the ability to actually get anything done in a timely manner. In the end, not everyone will be happy. But good on those people who take the time to express themselves, however silly or self-serving it may be sometimes. You can only effect change if you’re part of the conversation.

    I can sympathize with the frustration when someone stands up at a meeting and partakes in a 10-minute self serving diatrabe. If they cut the speaker off, they will be accused of stifling debate and free speech. I have tremendous respect for the bureaucrats who run these meetings and listen to all the comments. It’s a very difficult task to make decisions that are beneficial and acceptable to everyone.

  8. silhouette

    Are you referring to the left-lane on Cote-Vertu before the bus turns left onto Gophier? Something needs to be done there or the STM should just make it a requirement for the 215, et al, to take Edouard-Laurin instead to get to the metro. Buses waste 5-10 minutes on Cote-Vertu during the rush hour because of that damn busy left lane. That or dropping people off at the soutern entrance sounds ok I guess…

  9. James Lawlor

    Thank you silhouette for agreeing with me that this is a big time waster for everyone on many buses (there are lots of people affected).

    Buses that turn left: 70, 174, 177, 213, 215, 216, 225, 470
    Buses that go straight: 121, 171.

    If the practical security aspects are insurmountable, then perhaps the buses should travel along Edouard-Laurin instead. Then the bus lane would only be for the 121 & 171!

    Dropping of people at the southern entrance is very impractical because 8 of 10 buses terminate at Cote-Vertu and would then have to somehow get to their pick-up stop at the bus terminal. Also, how smoothly would this southern entrance work if 10 bus lines are all stopping to drop people of at the same spot?

    My idea that was submitted to the committee was to:
    – Move the stop line back several meters for all lanes except the bus lane
    – Install a priority bus green light to allow the buses to move before the other 3 lanes of traffic are allowed to move.

  10. Amanda

    Wow, great news that they are at least considering bike racks! I used to live in a very bike-friendly town where all the buses were outfitted with racks on the front, and it allowed people to make longer trips using bikes. I have often found myself missing those and thought they’d be a good fit here in Montreal.

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