Tag Archives: metro-extensions

Numbers — not politics — is why the metro should extend toward the east first

When the PQ government made a big-splash announcement that the blue line of Montreal’s metro would be extended toward the east, plenty of anglophones took the opportunity to once again complain that there’s no extension toward the west.

To them, the reason was simple: politics. The PQ is more interested in francophone voters in St-Léonard than anglophones in the West Island, they argue, and so the West Island will never get improved transit service as long as the PQ is in power.

The problem is that the logic doesn’t hold up.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of politics involved in high-cost consumer-oriented projects like this. And there’s plenty of politics involved in this particular announcement. But let’s set a few things straight before we come to incorrect conclusions:

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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.

Suburbs have too much transit clout

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines

Proposed extensions to Orange, Blue and Yellow lines

This week, La Presse came out with the news that the mayors of Montreal, Laval and Longueuil have joined forces to suggest to the Quebec government that proposed metro extensions in their cities be acted on simultaneously.

Because these projects require such a huge infusion of cash from the provincial government (they cost $150 million per kilometre, and that’s a low estimate), the decision to proceed with them tends to have as much to do with politics as it does with need. The Laval extension, for example, was pushed forward ahead of the extension of the Blue line mostly because of the fact that Laval has swing ridings whereas the east end of Montreal tends to be pretty well PQ blue (when the PQ has a chance of winning elections, anyway).

The three proposed extensions aren’t new. The Blue line extension has been on the books for decades now in one form or another. Laval’s closed loop was suggested in 2007, Longueuil’s plan is a bit more recent.

But why these three? Why not extend the green line in either direction? Why not create a line on Pie-IX, or Park Avenue, or through NDG?

The answer is that Montreal only has one mayor, and because of the way politicians have setup our cities, the mayor of Montreal has no more say than a smaller suburb on either side. So in order to get a much-needed metro extension in the dense neighbourhood of St. Leonard, we have to approve two comparatively useless extensions in underdeveloped off-island areas.

The idea isn’t going over so well, even among people who you’d think would support it. Some transit activists are arguing that less expensive (and less sexy) projects should be dealt with first, like improving commuter trains and setting up a tram network.

Let’s hope common sense prevails before the government writes that $3-billion cheque.

Longueuil dreams of more metro stations

The City of Longueuil is doing what every transit fan has done at some point in their lives: dream of extending Montreal’s metro lines far beyond their current terminuses into places it may or may not make sense for them to go.

Laval’s Gilles Vaillancourt makes a hobby of this. Even after getting an insanely overpriced extension of the metro into his territory fast-tracked before much-needed extensions into poor dense neighbourhoods in Montreal, he complains that the loop needs to be closed on the orange line with more stations on his territory.

Longueuil’s plan would be to add four metro stations in the Vieux-Longueul area, including a stop at CEGEP Édouard-Montpetit.

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Of course, it’s better to have suburban mayors dreaming about metro extensions than strip malls and highways. But maybe there’s something behind the argument that politicians shouldn’t be in control of public transit.

Vaillancourt getting greedy

Vaillancourt needs MORE METRO!

Laval mayor Gilles Vaillancourt, apparently not satisfied that the Quebec government spent more than his city’s entire annual budget building a metro extension of questionable worth there, wants even more money to close the loop of the Orange Line.

That’s kind of ballsy.

His arguments are as follows:

  • Laval’s population is growing: Yes, but the area around the Laval metro stations is still pretty vacant. Extensions of the blue and yellow lines would be through much more highly-populated areas that are in more desperate need of high-density transit.
  • The metro costs less per person, saving money: I don’t know where he gets his figures, but I’m guessing it’s based on operational costs, not construction costs. Building a metro to nowhere won’t pay for itself.
  • The current extension is a huge success: Its ridership numbers were a bit higher than an arbitrary conservative estimate pulled out of someone’s ass. Meanwhile, the project was almost an order of magnitude over budget. I don’t call this a success.
  • Closing the orange line loop would simplify many transit trips: Almost all Laval bus routes terminate at either the Montmorency or Cartier metro stations, funneling passengers onto metro cars. Creating a western connection would only split that traffic. It wouldn’t add another 40,000 riders to the system.
  • It’s environmentally friendly, and we need to get more cars of the road: In that case, I’m sure you’ll have no problem taking all that cash that’s building a new bridge along the Highway 25 axis and putting it into metro development instead.

Vaillancourt says he wants a dedicated tax for the extension. I agree. But I think he should be the one implementing it. If Laval wants a redundant metro extension for no particularly good reason, they can pay for it themselves.

UPDATE (Dec. 13): The Gazette’s Jim Mennie sees this as a shot across the bow in a battle between Laval and Montreal. And an editorial plagiarizes agrees with my main points.

All aboard the dream train

The city today released its 155-page transportation plan (PDF), which focuses on public transit, cycling and other green initiatives. Heck, even the report itself is green, so you know they mean business.

The report includes some very common-sense ideas: Extending the blue line metro East to Pie-IX and then Anjou, extending the orange line northwest to the Bois-Franc train station, connecting bicycle paths across the island, adding bicycle parking and adding express buses and reserved bus lanes to major arteries.

But just in case you’re hopeful that any of these initiatives will see the light of day, remember that it also includes a promise to finish the Cavendish Extension. Yeah.

As ambitious as the plan is, it’s not as crazy as tramway fetishists Projet Montréal’s plan (PDF), which proposes putting tramways on the highway and all the way out to Ile Bizard. (Well, some people at least think it’s worth the trouble)

Hidden in the sea of Montreal’s plan is another common-sense idea that I think would make a huge impact toward getting people to use public transit, especially in suburbs: Make express buses run all day. It works brilliantly for the 211, why not have something similar for the other suburbs?

Prochaine station … oh who cares?

With the Laval metro stations up and running, some young angryphones are griping about the lack of metro service in the West Island. Having spent 20 years of my life in Pierrefonds, and five of those regularly commuting downtown, I sympathize.

But there’s a good reason why the metro won’t be extended West from where it is now:Metro extension

That’s 10 km of mostly wasted tunnel travelling under uninhabited areas including the Taschereau rail yards, two highways, the Lachine industrial park and an airport runway.

At a cost of $150,000,000 per kilometre, the price of this extension to the airport terminal would cost about $1.5 billion.

Okay, you say, that’s big, but we can afford it, right?

Well, do you have $6,000 to spare? That’s how much each West Islander would have to pay the government to make this a reality.

Consider some alternatives, if you will, for that $1.5 billion:

  • Add 100 buses to the STM’s network for shuttle service to downtown points from various locations (Dorval, Fairview, Roxboro), and keep them running seven days a week for 40 years.
  • Create a high-speed rail link to Dorval airport and increase commuter train service on the Dorion-Rigaud line.
  • Multiply existing commuter train service 100-fold for 100 years.

My solution to this problem? Unsurprisingly, it involves increased commuter train and bus service to the West Island.

The 211 bus running along Lakeshore is insanely popular among southern West Islanders, because it’s a 7-day regular service bus that’s an express shuttle downtown. On the northern West Island, which is much worse served (except for commuter trains to Roxboro), the 470 Express Pierrefonds provides shuttle service from Fairview to Côte-Vertu, but only during rush-hour. Having an all-day shuttle from Fairview to the metro would save commuters as much as 20 minutes per trip.

I’m sure you can think of other express shuttle services that would serve the West Island well. And all of them put together would cost much less than extending metro service here.

UPDATE: More metro dreaming in this post, with maps.