Playing politics with the metro

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines - one for each city

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines - one for each city

La Presse had the EXCLUSIF last week that the mayors of Laval, Montreal and Longueuil are about to reach a deal that would see each city get a metro extension. If this idea sounds familiar it’s because it was raised in May (another La Presse EXCLUSIF), at which point I argued that one of those extensions made sense (the blue line) and the other two were much less worth the cost.

I’m not arguing that they’re not worth it necessarily. I like the metro and think it should be expanded where needed, even into areas that are less heavily populated. And I’d certainly rather see the government waste some money on public transit than on an unnecessary highway extension.

But it just seems so convenient that the three most-needed metro extensions work out to one for each of the major cities.

Vaillancourt needs MORE METRO!

Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, apparently not happy enough that he leveraged his city’s value as a swing-riding-rich area to get a nearly billion dollars out of the Quebec government for an extension of debatable value, is also demanding that his city get a discount on its use. He says people who take the metro in Laval should pay the STM’s Montreal rate of $68.50 a month, just like the people who use the Longueuil metro station do.

The solution to that dispute, of course, is to just do away with this exception to transit zoning and make people in Longueuil pay more.

(I don’t blame Vaillancourt for wanting more for his city or by making use of his strong negotiating position. There’s a reason he’s been mayor for 20 years now, and I would expect nothing less of him if I was a Laval resident. But there needs to be another tough negotiator on the government site, instead of politicians more than willing to throw away our money in order to win some swing voters and stay in power.)

Playing with numbers

I like the Laval metro. It’s pretty, it’s clean, it’s got elevators. It’s a fixed link between the two islands, which alleviates some of the congestion on the bridges (or, in a greener light, it will get more people to use public transit because it avoids the bottlenecks on those bridges).

But there’s an argument that’s used by Vaillancourt and others about it that bugs me. You can find it in this Gazette piece:

When the Orange Line was extended from the Henri Bourassa station north into Laval in April of 2007, with Laval getting three stations, projections called for 32,000 daily riders three years later, Vaillancourt said. But it took only nine months to reach 60,000, a level that has remined stable, said the mayor.

I’ve seen that a few places, but I have no idea where that 32,000 figure came from.

I looked back at some AMT literature and newspaper archives from when the extension was being built, and the figure I saw repeatedly wasn’t 32,000, it was 50,000. A letter from the STM’s Isabelle Tremblay on July 26, 2006 has this figure, as do AMT bulletins in 2001 and 2004. I also saw the number in three separate articles (from three separate journalists) in 2001-2002.

I find zero references to the 32,000 figure in news articles before or during metro construction. I also find no reference to the figure in a quick Google search of the AMT and Quebec government websites.

You know, if I was really cynical, I might ask myself if the figure was intentionally (and inconspicuously) lowered from 50,000 to 32,000 to make it look later on like the number of riders had greatly outnumbered expectations, when in fact it was only slightly higher than expected.

What’s important is what figure the government (and the people) had in mind when they approved the extension plan, and everything leads me to believe it was 50,000.

They also, of course, expected it would cost less than $200 million. When you consider that the costs quadrupled ($800 million, still $13,000 for each of those riders), you have to wonder if an underestimate of ridership is really proof that this experiment in suburban underground transit is something we should start up all over again.

I’m not against the metro extensions proposed here, though I would give priority to the blue line extension to Pie IX and the orange line extension to the Bois Franc train station. But if this deal suggests anything, it’s that decisions on these things shouldn’t be left to three big-city mayors hanging out secretly in a back room.

29 thoughts on “Playing politics with the metro

  1. gadjo

    make a connection to the airport already!!!
    is there some kind of mega powerful taxi mafia running the show or what ?
    I just got back from a trip that involved stopovers in Istanbul, Turkey, and Casablanca, Morocco.
    You got a metro line that drops you off right under the airport in Istanbul, and a train that does the same job in Casa.
    The so called 3rd world figured it out, it cant be that hard ?

    And no paying $16 per person for the Aerobus, which you can only take from Berri (and a few posh hotels downtown) just doesn’t cut it…

    1. Jean Naimard

      make a connection to the airport already!!! is there some kind of mega powerful taxi mafia running the show or what ?

      It must be the ghost of Murray Hill…
      Right now, the AMT wants to go to Windsor Station, which makes a lot of sense (it could take less than 1 month to do; all that needs to be done is laying down a kilometer of track; nothing else) but the airport administrators (a bunch of unelected bureaucrats named by the chamber of commerce – an utterly unaccountable, retrograde and opaque organization) want to go to Central Station.
      Windsor station makes sense because CP has much less traffic than CN as CP terminates in Montréal. Shuttles would have to share tracks with freights for about 4 miles (between Dorval and Ballantyne – near the Meadowbrook golf course in Côte-St-Sux*) and then would have a clear way for the remaining 5-6 miles to Windsor station, all this at above 100 km/h.
      Central station sucks big time, because the line would have to cross CP (the interchange rebuilt plans include provision for a underpass under CP, and they also have relocated the old "pool train" interchange west of Pine-Beach station) and then for 9 miles out of the 10 miles (it’s 2 miles longer than CP), it would have to share 2 to 4 tracks of the very busy CN mainline with heavy freights and VIA’s, and it would be limited to about 60 km/h for the last 4 miles as the line winds through St-Henri, Pointe-St-Charles and Griffintown (the CP line, in comparison, is ramrod straight, save a curve in Contréal-Ouest).
      So, the bottom-line is that on CP, people could get to the airport reliably, in easily 15 minutes, whilst on CN, it would be unreliable and could take anything upwars of 20 minutes.
      Why the dithering? Well, I learned from someone in the mayor’s office, that someone is pissed-off at the whole scheme, and that someone is big enough of a shot to be able to have stalled this for several years. And no, I don’t know who this is.
      * Couldn’t resist. I guess from now on, I will call the demerged ‘burbs with derogatory names. Hmmm, lessee… Con-Royal, Fuckstead, Côte-St-Sux, Contréal-Ouest, Dullard-des-Ormeaux, Cunt-Claire, Beauconsfield, Furkland, Baie-d’ucul, Sainte-Anne-de-Beaucul, Contréal-Est.

  2. Enrique

    Ah, and once again, people living west of Snowdon metro are excluded from the metro’s extension plans, because they aren’t important.

    I guess the money my city pours (and over $4000 in municipal taxes I pay) into the agglomeration slush fund is not destined for little details like that.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      The people who live west of Snowdon metro live in Hampstead and Côte St. Luc. These are not dense areas, and considering their paranoia for all things urban I wonder if they’d even accept metro stations if they were offered.

      1. Marc

        You’re right to say that people in Hampstead and Côte St-Luc aren’t much and might not be the most interrested in using the metro, but not far is the 105 Sherbrooke bus line wich is one of the most used bus line in Montreal with the 139 Pie-IX. You also have the Montreal-West train station and the Loyola campus thas has been renovated and has more than doubled in area with the new buildings while parking has been reduced. 2-3 stops to cover Monkland, Loyola and the train station would be great.

        1. Fagstein Post author

          I think you bring up the main counter-argument right there: There already is a train line to NDG, a block away from the 105 route. Adding trains to that existing track (and maybe a station between Montreal-Ouest and Vendôme) would be a lot cheaper than building a metro.

          1. tacosyburritos

            you mean infrastructure should be built around actual need and not anticipated future use? when has that ever stopped an autoroute or a power centre?

            would the metro be a better method of getting people out of cars than a train to ndg? probably, which might be better for the local economy over the long term.

            the metro to lachine/the airport might even be workable if they kept the number of stations down. but likely nobody with credibility will study the issue.

    2. Jean Naimard

      Ah, and once again, people living west of Snowdon metro are excluded from the metro’s extension plans, because they aren’t important.

      It’s not a matter of importance, it’s a matter of density. There is simply not enough people willing to take transit there to justify a subway line.

      I guess the money my city pours (and over $4000 in municipal taxes I pay) into the agglomeration slush fund is not destined for little details like that.

      Usually, people who have houses that pay $4000 in taxes do not take transit, but come pollute dowtown with their big-ass german SUVs, and whenever a transit plan calls for a station on their neighbourhood, they are up in arms about the upcoming invasion of poor barbarians who are going to rob them.

      1. Michael Dunkelman

        Actually Cote Saint Luc has the same density as the city of Montreal, around 4500 people per square kilometer. One must also consider that approximately one third of Cote Saint Luc’s territory is comprised of train yards and tracks. You make a good point however with regards to whether people would want to take public transit. I feel if the mall in cote saint luc (which they plan on demolishing in part) is redeveloped as a dense town center and some parking at the station was provided, a sucessfull metro station could be built.

  3. ladyjaye

    Hasn’t the plan to make the orange line one big loop (how will they then identify the direction of the trains?) and to build the blue line all the way to Anjou been in place ever since the early days of the Metro? Seems to me like it’s as old as the plan to complete highway 30 on the western part of the south shore…

    1. Fagstein Post author

      The blue line extension has been planned for a long time, as has a new metro along Pie-IX. Other expansions, like the orange line into Cartierville, have also been seriously considered. But a Laval loop or a yellow line extension into Longueuil haven’t been on anything but the most far-thinking of expansion plans until recently.

      1. tacosyburritos

        one of the original plans from the 60s (“projected for 1983” or something like that) has metro lines all over the place. there was a line on jean talon, another following the 51 autobus route, one on avenue du parc, one on Pie-IX. too bad they didn’t finish it…

  4. Arya S.

    I know it may seem like these are completely selfish acts on behalf of the cities that won’t really help the overall transit network but I actually disagree. Well ok, they’re selfish acts on behalf of their mayors in intention but in reality I think it’ll help more than just that. I mean obviously the blue line extension was way overdue. With that and the new East train line, the greater RDP/Montreal Nord area will finally have good access to public transportation. It would probably also free up a good number of buses that travel in that area that could be used in other areas where the Metro isn’t going to come…. for a long time.

    But no one argues the blue line extension, the orange line is typically the one of choice. I mean the argument goes Laval already has a Metro line why does it need another? But this metro isn’t really even for Laval, yes it connects Laval in but the Bois-Franc Metro station would do alot more than that. St-Laurent/Cartierville is a fast growing area and Cote-Vertu is already massively busy being the bus terminus that bring in nearly everyone from the West Island as well as Cartierville. Bois-Franc would not only alleviate some of this congestion but at the same time greatly improve access for individuals from the West Island if as planned the metro links with the Deux-Montagne line. This would allow those of us who don’t use the line solely to get to work downtown, to hop onto the orange line seemlessly (the only other choice at the moment is to get off at Bois-Franc or Montpelier and take a 10/15 min. bus ride with the typical wait, and god knows how busy the 121/171 line already is). Clearly not a savoury option. But now, from the West Island, we could take a 10 min. train ride to the metro and go to laval within another 10 or anywhere on the western orange line within. It would make access from West-Island to NDG and Chomedey MUCH faster and it would also add more pressure to improve service on the train line since it won’t solely be the simple downtown-work commuter line it has been for so long.

    So for me, I really hope this goes through because right now to get to my Grandmother’s house which is 15 minutes by car (DDO to Chomedey), means either taking 208->470->Cote-Vertu->Laval Bus->Switch Laval Bus or 208->Train->Montpelier->121->Laval Bus->Switch Laval. Which usually adds up easily to an hour to an hour and a half. But instead I could take the train to the metro, metro to montmerncy, and take a 15 min. bus, which should be about 45 min max. MUCH BETTER. If they doubled the train service and increased the buses to be able to take people efficiently to the train stations in the west island, I could almost imagine a time when the West Island almost seems like its attached to this Island. Its a shame that it takes longer for me to get to just adjacent cities of Laval and NDG than to get downtown. I understand there is less demand but were talking about twice the distance in much less time.

    These metro extensions wouldn’t just service Laval, Anjou, or Longeuil (ok maybe that one will just service Longeuil) . It will help make Montreal’s Metro system more comphrensive and much more adapted to the evolved nature of Montreal today. It should allow a retooling of the system that will benefit us all by filling a couple huge holes. Add in an airport train that could act as a terminus for the Southern West Island and really we’re looking at our future where almost everyone can move around freely around the island in less than 2 hours from anywhere, we can barely say that for some parts of Montreal to get downtown at the moment. This may be expensive but really connecting the island of Montreal makes it worth it.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I think you can make a different argument for an orange line expansion to Bois Franc (which like you said would help thousands with its connection to the commuter train) and continuing that expansion through Chomedey to the Montmorency metro. The latter gives a second (really expensive) metro tunnel into Laval, and couldn’t possibly be as worthy of the cost as the first one was.

  5. Marc

    I like the metro and think it should be expanded where needed, even into areas that are less heavily populated.

    I agree. Problem is, we can’t afford it. We know the cost will balloon to several times what was initially stated. Even if it were to cost $100, it’s money the govenment doesn’t have.

  6. bob

    Laval wants to pay Montreal rates for metro use, then Laval better start paying some major $$$ towards the the cost of running of Montreal, for without Montreal Laval would be nothing more than a bunch of cows, fields and quarries.

  7. Olivier

    “But if this deal suggests anything, it’s that decisions on these things shouldn’t be left to three big-city mayors hanging out secretly in a back room.”

    Add to the equation that those guys are entering electoral campaigns and, well…

  8. Caroline

    They want to loop the orange line for 1 station ?!?!?! At I-Can’t-remember-how-many-millions per killometer?

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I have only one marker there because it’s the only location for a station that everyone can agree on. Presumably there would be more stations, but it’s not clear where they would be placed.

  9. Ted

    The Deux Montaigne Train line should be converted into a full above ground metro line, up to Bois Franc at least, with stations added at McGill and Edouard-Monpetit.

    Then from here this metro line would be easy and cheep to expand as the right of way already exists. The underground only metro that Montreal chose in the 50’s was a mistake because it is incredible expensive to extend. Look at all the big metro’s of the world; they all come above ground outside of the densely populated inner city. The train link to Trudeau Airoport could also act like an above ground metro with stops in NDG, Montreal West Lachine and Dorval.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      There are preliminary studies about connecting the Mount Royal tunnel to the McGill and Edouard-Montpetit stations. The big problem is that Edouard-Montpetit is pretty high up the mountain, and getting to the tunnel from it would require the use of elevators and have a rather complex emergency evacuation system.

      1. Chris

        if we are able to get off at Bois-Franc and take the metro to Eduard-Montpetit, it will already be an improvement.

  10. Joseph

    The metro costs more in Laval, because the city of Laval pays less subsidy than the city of Longueuil to the STM per rider.

    I agree with you, the Bois-Franc and Anjou extensions are priority #1. Personally, I think looping the Orange Line is infeasible, and I’m a resident of the North Shore. I don’t know enough about Longueuil to comment on the Yellow Line extension.

  11. Tux

    I’m all for more metro, no matter where it goes, but I’m disappointed the West Island got shafted. Also, I think everyone should pay the same monthly fee to use the metro, no matter where they live. I pay my monthly 68.50 for my pass, but when I go to Laval I have to pay extra. Pretty lame considering I’ve endured innumerable fare hikes while the Laval extension was being built, and also considering that the STM is now SPENDING money like mad on things of dubious value like OPUS.

    If you’re going to do stupid things with my money, at least don’t charge me extra to use said stupid things.

    1. Jean Naimard

      If the west island (or Rivière-des-Prairies/Pointe-Aux-Trembles) would have had the métro, it is central Montréal who would have been shafted.
      There is not enough density to justify the horrenduously expensive cost of building tunnels to that extent. Not enough people would ride it, and the extra cost would mean that taxes would raise far more than west-islanders would be willing to bear, and the bus service there would suck even more than it does currently.
      And, besides, do you really want to ride 1 hour staring at the tunnel walls???
      I don’t think so.

  12. Jim J.

    Getting back to one of the original points in this thread, the issue of the three mayors cobbling together a scheme that all of them can support, even though that scheme doesn’t appear to conform to really what is actually needed.

    First off, when you are speaking of upwards of $1 billion in infrastructure spending, if you think that the simple merits of a program should dictate where & how that money should be spent, then you have a poor grasp of the idea of a representative democracy.

    Politics matter.

    If you are the mayor of [choose one of the three cities], then you have the option of agreeing to a collective plan in which you have a decent chance of getting roughly one-third of something, or going it alone and maybe getting 100% of nothing.

    So, M. Vaillancourt can go back to his constituents and say, “See? Quebec was going to spend billions on new metro lines/extensions, and I got you your fair share.” Pretty much the same with M. Gladu in Longueuil. (The issue of operating subsidies don’t apply here because, as I understand it, the province pays for the pic-et-pelle work, while the municipalities don’t contribute until it is actually up and running.)

    Tremblay had a much more complicated calculus to consider. He certainly has strong arguments on his side – it is a not-unreasonable argument that any metro prolongations should happen on the island of Montreal.

    Even if you have all the merits on your side, but arrayed against you are the mayors of two municipalities that collectively represent about 600,000 people who will undoubtedly be raising a ruckus with their MNA’s….but then you are offered an alternative option.

    This option, in which you have three mayors with a consensus plan, does come at a cost: Montreal only gets part of what it would really want. So does Laval, so does Longueuil. But everyone gets something.

    What the consensus achieves, is that assuming the money is going to be spent, this should accellerate the dispensing of those funds. If you had even one of the three mayors crying about it and lobbying their MNAs, it would probably take a lot longer for the money to actually start flowing.

    We are, for better or for worse, not a technocracy (or even a meritocracy, for that matter), in which decisions are made by according to clinical, dispassionate, logical examination. We have elected represenatives at many different levels, who we fully expect to (and would be rightfully outraged if they didn’t) advocate on behalf of their constituents (i.e., us).

    It’s messy, it’s inefficient, it’s not always fair and it oftentimes produces results that we dislike. (That is, until such time as it produces results that we do like. Then it’s okay. Just ask Messrs. Vaillancourt and Gladu, and the residents of Longueuil and Laval.)


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