Monthly Archives: October 2012

Are the STM’s fare hikes unreasonable?

Last week, the STM released details of its 2013 budget, and naturally everyone focused on fare hikes (see PDF chart). The numbers showed that most fares would go up by a buck or two, just like they have every year for the past decade. And Montreal’s opposition parties came out with their usual predictable denunciations of the hikes, as did regular transit users who complained as they always do that service isn’t being improved enough to justify the hikes.

As you can see from the chart below, fares have definitely gone up over the past five years, and while small fares (single trips, tourist passes) have been in line with the consumer price index or even below it, the bigger and more popular fares, like the monthly adult pass, have gone up by twice as much as other consumer goods and services.

But at the same time, it would be wrong to say that there haven’t been significant service improvements in that time. Since 2010 alone, there’s been the 10 minutes max network, new seniors’ shuttles, a major overhaul of the night bus network, new express buses to the West Island, and a reduction in wait times for the metro just before and just after rush hours.

Tens of thousands of hours a year of bus service have been added, buses themselves are being replaced to the point where the number of buses from before 2000 is now negligible. New metro trains are being designed and built. And various technologies are being put into place to ensure that people are given information that allows them to get to their destination the fastest way possible.

The STM calculates that, overall, its level of service has gone up by 25% since 2007. That outpaces the increase in the price of a monthly adult pass for the same period.

These improvements aren’t cheap. In general, increases in amount of service outpace increases in additional ridership (and, I assume, fare revenue) by a factor of two to one. This is unsurprising, and in fact it’s the goal set by the government, a goal the STM has surpassed in its review of PASTEC. But it means that we need to pay more.

And most people are actually okay with that. They don’t mind paying more if it means getting better service. Montreal’s transit system is still among the cheapest in North America, certainly when you look at the amount of service it delivers.

Whether the STM is delivering enough added service to justify the price increases is something I’ll leave to you to decide.

Fare progression chart

Here’s a chart showing the STM’s fares over the past five years, and you can compare to the consumer price index for those years at the bottom:

(UPDATE: The STM has cut its fare hikes. An updated chart is here.)

2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 Change 2008-2013
Monthly CAM (regular) $66.25 (+1.9%) $68.50 (+3.4%) $70 (+2.2%) $72.75 (+3.9%) $75.50 (+3.8%) $77.75 (+3.0%) +17.4%
Monthly CAM (reduced) $36 (+2.9%) $37 (+2.8%) $38.75 (+4.7%) $41 (+5.8%) $43.75 (+6.7%) $45.50 (+1.0%) +26.4%
Four-month CAM (reduced fare only) N/A N/A $148 ($37/month) $155 ($38.75/month) (+4.7%) $164 ($41/month) (+5.8%) $175 ($43.75/month)(+6.7%) +18.2% (2010-13)
Weekly CAM (regular) $19.25 (+1.3%) $20 (+3.9%) $20.50 (+2.5%) $22 (+2.5%) $23.50 (+6.8%) $24.25 (+3.2%) +26.0%
Weekly CAM (reduced) $11 (+2.3%) $11.25 (+2.3%) $11.50 (+2.2%) $12.75 (+10.9%) $13.75 (+7.8%) $14.50 (+5.5%) +31.8%
Three-day tourist pass $17 (unchanged) $17 (unchanged) $14
$16 (+14.3%) $16 (unchanged) $18 (+12.5%) +5.9%
One-day tourist pass
(Also used as 747 fare)
$9 (unchanged) $9 (unchanged) $7 (-22.2%) $8 (+14.3%) $8 (unchanged) $9 (+12.5%) None
Evening pass (after 6pm) N/A N/A N/A $4 $4 (unchanged) $4 (unchanged) None (2011-13)
10 trips (Opus card only) (regular) N/A $20 $21 ($2.10/trip) (+5%) $22.50 ($2.25/trip) (+7.1%) $24 ($2.40/trip) (+6.7%) $25 (+4.2%) +25% (2009-13)
10 trips (Opus card only) (reduced) N/A $10.75 ($1.08/trip) $12 ($1.20/trip) (+11.6%) $13 ($1.30/trip) (+8.3%) $14 ($1.40/trip) (+7.7%) $15 (+7.1%) +39.5% (2009-13)
Two trips (regular) N/A N/A N/A $5.50 ($2.75/trip) $5.50 (unchanged) $5.50 (unchanged) None (2011-13)
Two trips (reduced) N/A N/A N/A $3.50 ($1.75/trip) $3.50 (unchanged) $3.50 (unchanged) None (2011-13)
Single fare (regular) $2.75 (unchanged) $2.75 (unchanged) $2.75 (unchanged) $3 (+9.1%) $3 (unchanged) $3 (unchanged) +9.1%
Single fare (reduced) $1.75 (unchanged) $1.75 (unchanged) $1.75 (unchanged) $2 (+14.3%) $2 (unchanged) $2 (unchanged) +14.3%
Consumer price index for Montreal 2.1% 1.0% 1.4% 2.8% 1.8% (projected) N/A +10.9% (projected)

Other changes

Among other things announced in the budget:

  • An unlimited weekend pass, for $12, offering unlimited trips from 6pm Friday to 5am Monday.
  • The same hours apply to the Family Outings program, so an adult with up to five children under 12 can travel together on an unlimited number of trips for $12 on weekends as of 6pm on Fridays.
  • Expansion of its Occasionelle disposable smart-card to all retailers selling transit passes
  • Removal of the place of residence requirement for student passes. Students 18-25 who live off-island will no longer be excluded from access to reduced-fare Opus cards and the reduced fares that come with it.

In addition, the Agence métropolitaine de transport is setting up a parking lot at Saint-Martin Blvd. and Pie-IX Blvd. (Route 125) in Laval, which will be served by the STM’s 139 bus on Pie-IX. This will be the first time in decades that an STM bus route is being expanded into another transit agency’s territory. Normally it is the external transit agency (the STL or RTL) or the AMT that manages bus service between territories.

No word has been given on whether that bus would be subject to regular STM fares or something similar to the Laval metro stations. The STM informs me that, in fact, the fares for the 139 buses in Laval will be the same as for the Laval metro stations, and those going to and coming from Laval will be marked as 139X.


CRTC approves Hudson/St. Lazare radio station

Coverage area of proposed FM station in Hudson/St. Lazare provided by Dufferin Communications

The Montreal area is getting another radio station. On Friday, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission approved an application from Dufferin Communications Inc. for an English-language radio station in Hudson/St. Lazare.

The station would be a local one, with 500 watts of effective power, operating on 106.7 MHz and playing easy-listening music, similar to that of its other stations that are part of the Jewel network. (Dufferin says the station’s branding hasn’t been decided yet, but “Jewel” is an option.) The application called for 110 hours a week of local programming, including four hours and 22 minutes a week of “pure news”, of which half would be local to the area.

I summarize the decision in this story for The Gazette’s new Off Island section, which targets this community.

This will certainly mean jobs for journalists and radio workers in the region. Dufferin vice-president Carmela Laurignano tells me they plan to hire 15-20 people in total to work at the station. The proposed station’s financial projections show revenue gradually growing from $480,000 the first year to $1 million in the seventh year of its license. Expenses would start at $700,000 (including a $90,000 startup cost) and reach $850,000 in the seventh year.

About 95% of its advertising revenue is expected to be local, with 20-30,000 minutes sold a year at an average rate of between $22 and $34 a minute.  Under these projections, the station would start making money in Year 4 and pay for itself in the seventh year.

The application was not without opposition:

  • Cogeco objected that there wasn’t an open call for applications for what can be considered Montreal’s last available FM frequency. (The frequency was used by Aboriginal Voices Radio until it shut down here, then on an unlicensed basis by Kahnawake Keeps It Country until it got a formal licence for 89.9FM.)
  • Groupe CHCR, which owns ethnic stations CKDG-FM and CKIN-FM in Montreal, objected that the station would negatively affect its station and others
  • CJVD-FM, which is a French-language commercial station in Vaudreuil, objected that the region could not accomodate two local stations that would have to compete with the larger stations in Montreal.
  • Groupe Radio Enfant told the CRTC it planned its own application for a station at 106.7 (the group had a temporary permit to operate a transmitter on that frequency in late 2009). The CRTC says it has received no such application.

In the end, the CRTC dismissed the objections. The commission found that the station’s pattern would not significantly compete with large Montreal radio stations because the signal does not reach far into Montreal. It did not compete with CJVD-FM because they’re in different languages, and most importantly 106.7 FM is not a viable frequency to use in Montreal itself because it is too close to CHCR’s CKIN-FM 106.3 and would cause too much interference. (Though CHCR itself applied to move CKDG-FM to that frequency from 105.1, thinking it would get a better signal. It later withdrew that application.)

Dufferin Communications is also the company behind Radio Fierté, a French-language music and talk station aimed at Montreal’s LGBT community that got CRTC approval to broadcast at 990 AM after CKGM vacates that frequency. Laurignano said they expect to get moving on that station in the new year.

Though Radio Fierté has already been approved, the Hudson/St. Lazare station’s application predates it. It was first filed in February 2010.

Dufferin Communications has two years to get the station running unless it asks for an extension from the CRTC. That means it must be up by Oct. 19, 2014. The licence expires on Aug. 31, 2019. Laurignano said they expect to have it on the air by the fall of 2013.

And by the way, fans of National Public Radio can breathe. Dufferin had listed as an alternative frequency in its application 107.9FM, which is the frequency used by the Vermont Public Radio transmitter that covers northern Vermont and much of Montreal. Unless someone else applies for that frequency (which isn’t protected from interference here), VPR can still be heard on it.

CRTC kills Bell-Astral deal, saving TSN 690

The larger story is that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has rejected an application from BCE Inc. to acquire Astral Media Inc. This means that the companies will remain independent, and among other things CJAD and CTV won’t be owned by the same company.

The smaller story is the denial of a related application from Bell to convert TSN Radio 690 (CKGM) from English to French, to meet the commission’s common ownership policy. With the larger deal denied, the smaller one becomes moot. Bell said at the hearing that the latter was contingent on the former, and without approval of the larger purchase it would continue to operate TSN Radio as is.

This is the best possible outcome for TSN Radio and its fans. Any decision allowing Bell to acquire CJAD would have meant moving Canadiens games there, and TSN would have either been converted to French, sold or shut down.

The question is what will Bell do now. Does it still plan to launch RDS Radio in Quebec? If so, on what frequency and where? (The number of vacant AM frequencies in Monteral is going down fast.) Many people were looking forward to a French sports station that could take over where CKAC left off. Even many TSN Radio fans angry with the application said they would love to see a French-language all-sports station alongside the English one.

Requests for comment from people at the station were passed up the chain until I got an official “no comment” from Greg McIsaac at TSN. But privately, station staff are thrilled. As are fans, who expressed delight on Twitter. The language change would almost certainly have meant job losses at CKGM and possibly CJAD as well as the latter incorporated programming from the former.

UPDATE: Bell says it’s asking the federal cabinet to step in to reverse the decision. (Astral has nothing interesting to say yet.) The federal government says it will not overrule the regulator (whose chair it has just appointed), but Bell says it will formally ask for intervention anyway. Bell could also try to have the decision overturned in court, though it’s unclear under what grounds they would ask for a legal appeal.

In its angrily-worded statement, Bell also accused the CRTC chair of impropriety, saying he had met with Bell’s competitors but not with Bell. As the CRTC tells it, this is correct, but only because Bell had an application in front of the commission and it would have been improper to meet with Bell. The commission also says that at no time did the other companies discuss the Bell application with the CRTC ex parte.

The press room at the Gémeaux

Half of the salle de presse at the 2012 Gémeaux at Place des Arts on Sept. 16

The request came from my editor on Monday, six days before: How would I feel about covering the Gémeaux for The Gazette? Their usual writer for these things, Brendan Kelly, was working a news reporting shift that day (weekend shifts are rotated among staff to share the burden), so he needed a backup. And since I know a bit more about French-language television than the usual Gazette writer, he thought of me. Despite the fact that I was also working a regular shift that day (but in the morning), I accepted. I was just too curious what it would be like. I’ve never covered an awards ceremony before. And I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve written stories on deadline like this. Fortunately for me, the people organizing this event are professionals, and they have it all down to a science. Continue reading

It’s just an earthquake, right?

It’s the biggest minor news story of the day, and many news outlets aren’t reporting on it yet.

At 12:19:28am on Wednesday, the ground shook under Montreal. According to Earthquakes Canada, it was a 4.5 magnitude earthquake centred near Saint-Marc-sur-Richelieu. According to the United States Geological Survey, it was a 3.9 magnitude quake centred a bit further southwest. Either way, the quake was minor, being felt in a large area but causing no apparent damage.

I wasn’t sure what it was at first. As I remember it, it felt like a pair of sudden jolts, not the longer, low rumble of an earthquake I remembered from my last experience of a ground shake in Montreal. I went out on my balcony to see what was going on, thinking someone was doing construction or something. I saw a construction truck parked outside, but no obvious sign of any work going on. Then I noticed that people up and down the block were starting to appear on their balconies and front porches. Maybe this was bigger than I thought.

A quick look at Twitter confirmed that, with people reporting the ground shaking all over the city. Clearly, we’d all just experienced a minor earthquake.

Unfortunately for local media, it happened after midnight, which meant many newsrooms were dark. The 24-hour all-news channels were all running repeats from earlier in the evening, with no mention of the earthquake. Except for Metro 14’s morning show, local over-the-air television won’t have local news in English until noon, except as a ticker at the bottom of the screen. News radio stations also had no mention of the quake, even though they run hourly newscasts overnight. And newspaper websites were slow to update with news, the final editions for Wednesday having been put to bed.

Local news media, particularly on the broadcast side, have been criticized in the past for not reporting breaking news when it happens overnight or on weekends. And those critics will have new ammunition from the events of tonight, when thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of people were woken up suddenly, but couldn’t find news about what had happened through the usual sources.

In particular, Hall of Shame awards should go to the following:

  • La Presse, which as of this writing (three hours after the earthquake) has neither a story on its website nor anything on its Twitter feed about it
  • LCN, which repeated news bulletins from earlier and couldn’t be bothered to even update the ticker at the bottom of the screen with information about the earthquake
  • CJAD 800, which ran its syndicated Coast to Coast AM show and hourly newscasts that were obviously prerecorded because they made no mention of the earthquake but had lots of information about planned overnight road closures.
  • CBC Radio One and Radio-Canada Première Chaîne, which also had no mention of the earthquake in their hourly newscasts as of 2am. (Their websites had mention of it early.)
  • CTV News Channel, which had no mention of the earthquake on air or in its ticker. (CTV Montreal did have a story on its website.)

On the other hand, some organizations deserve specific praise for their actions, distinguishing themselves by having timely information as their competitors were literally caught sleeping:

  • CKGM (TSN Radio 690), whose late-night crew threw the sports talk out the window and spoke to listeners about the earthquake up until 2:30am. (They didn’t provide much useful information, but even acknowledging that something happened is helpful for people in situations like this.)
  • CBC News Network, which had a report from Ian Hanomansing at the top of the hour at 1am, with CBC Montreal reporter Leah Hendry by phone. Though they didn’t exactly get him out of bed (it was 10am 10pm in Vancouver).
  • CHMP 98.5FM, which has live overnights with Jacques Fabi. He naturally made the earthquake the topic of conversation in his overnight call-in show.
Most of the news media not on these lists did the minimum – getting a short story out explaining what happened, enough so they could go back to bed and follow it up in the morning.

But it’s just a minor earthquake

In the end, it’s not the end of the world if news about this has to wait until morning. Most people went right back to sleep. Twitter and other social media chatter died after about an hour or so (though not before someone started passing around a photo of last year’s New Zealand earthquake and pretending it was a shot of Montreal). So does it really matter?

My question is more this: What if this hadn’t been a minor earthquake? What if this had been a major one? How would the local media have reacted? Would the newsrooms have filled up faster? Would the TV news networks have cut from taped programming to a live anchor? Would the newspapers have gotten people out of bed to update their websites faster? Or would the news have had to wait hours no matter how big it was, simply because there was no one in the newsroom monitoring for breaking news?

Hopefully it’s a question newsrooms in Montreal and the rest of Canada won’t have to learn the hard way when something major does strike at an inconvenient time.

If you felt the earthquake, Earthquakes Canada would like to hear your report of how it felt.

Bell Media opposes Rogers plans for CJNT

It’s not that Bell Media, which owns CTV, is opposed to adding a third private English-language station to the Montreal market. But it tells the CRTC it thinks such an application should be done in a straightforward way with a call for new applications, rather than the roundabout two-step process that Rogers is proposing with CJNT.

Normally, when an application is made for a new commercial television or radio station, the CRTC responds by evaluating the market to see if it can sustain an additional station, and if so issuing an open call for applications. The various applications are evaluated and the commission chooses the best one.

With the Rogers acquisition of CJNT, which it proposes to convert into an English station, and a related application for the new ICI ethnic station, which would take over the ethnic programming responsibilities from CJNT, the new application isn’t technically for Citytv, but for an ethnic station to replace an existing one. In comments filed to the CRTC, Bell’s vice-president of regulatory affairs Kevin Goldstein says Rogers is “looking for an extraordinary result from this process” and the CRTC should reject the application, instead issuing an open call for applications for a new English television station in Montreal. Indeed, he questions why it wasn’t the group behind ICI that didn’t seek to acquire CJNT, and Rogers issue the new application.

Even under an alternative proposal, in which CJNT remains an ethnic station but with relief from rules like the one requiring 75% of its programming between 8pm and 10pm to be bilingual, Goldstein says “its commitment to local ethnic programming hours will be drastically reduced and much lower than what is required by other ethnic stations. This would represent a significant loss of diverse programming for Montreal’s ethnic audiences, particularly during the prime time hours when they tune in the most.”

Other Bell concerns include:

Timing: Bell points out that if the two applications are approved, the ICI service would take some months to launch, while Citytv could be converted into an English television station “essentially overnight.” In the interim, Montreal would be absent any ethnic programming on local television.

Programming: Though it doesn’t object to Rogers’s proposed English programming grid per se, Bell does suggest that it might not be the best option in terms of local programming. It points out that the station would have “limited local news” which would be done within a morning show and a weekly sports show. Goldstein suggests that, with an open call for applications, another proposal could offer a better option that would have more or better local programming.

Bell’s main objection, that Rogers seems to have structured this plan as a clever way to get around normal CRTC process for a new television station, makes a lot of sense. But it’s also kind of an academic argument to make, for the simple reason that there’s little demand for new conventional television stations. I’d be surprised if an open call for applications for a commercial English station would result in an application from anyone other than Rogers for the simple reason that there’s no other large mainstream commercial Canadian television network that doesn’t already have a station in Montreal. The only other networks in Canada are the small, mainly religious Joytv and CTS.

In 1996, when Canwest applied to acquire Quebec City station CKMI-TV and convert it into Global Quebec, CFCF objected strongly, saying the market could not sustain a second television station. Ownership of CFCF has changed a few times since then, though.

Continue reading

Burning questions about CJNT, Citytv and ICI

Sam Norouzi, whose family would own 90% of the company behind ICI, in the Mi-Cam studio on Christophe-Colomb Ave.

I have two stories in Wednesday’s Gazette, explaining to readers the two proposals for new television stations related to the proposed Rogers acquisition of CJNT. The first discusses the plan for CJNT itself, to convert it to an English Citytv station that would air the Citytv schedule and a new local morning show. The second talks to the family behind an application for a new station called ICI that would essentially bring back CJNT’s predecessor Télévision Ethnique du Québec, in which producers acted independently in a cooperative and sell advertising for their own shows.

While the Gazette stories are long and contain a lot of information, there were a bunch of other little facts that I couldn’t cram in there that would probably be of more interest to people who follow local media a bit more closely. So here are some answers:

Continue reading

Global Montreal posts morning show jobs

It’s been two years since the CRTC approved the acquisition of Canwest Global’s television assets by Shaw, endorsing a plan that would involve millions of dollars in spending including the creation of new morning shows in Montreal and other markets that didn’t already have them. Montreal and the Maritimes, Global’s weakest markets, were the last to get local morning shows, set to launch in fall 2012.

Now Global and its parent company Shaw Media are taking a big step toward launching a morning show here, posting six full-time jobs:

The job postings don’t list a start date either for the job or the show itself, but do say it would be weekdays from 7am to 9am. The number of jobs is quite low (Rogers says it would need at least 20 for its morning show on a Citytv CJNT). I’m waiting to hear back from Shaw Media, but the last word was a morning show would launch some time in late fall.

UPDATE (Oct. 5): Ran into Global Montreal station manager Karen Macdonald last night. She said she’s been flooded with applications for the new positions. No start date for the show has been established yet, but we do know that technical functions will still be handled remotely.

Global uses Mosart, a Norwegian system that automates many control room functions. The evening newscasts are directed out of Edmonton, with only editorial staff and a technician in Montreal.

The job posts don’t include any deadlines, but Macdonald tells me they’ll come down next week.