Montreal Gazette

STM strug­gles to fill bus seats

‘Alarm­ing’ 13.32 per cent de­cline in rid­er­ship from 2012 to 2017

- JASON MAGDER Montreal · United States of America · North America · Québec · Denis Coderre · Uber · Sherbrooke · Xeros Palo Alto Research Center · Societe de transport de Montreal · Montréal · LaSalle · Verdun · Dollard-des-Ormeaux · Vertu · Pointe-aux-Trembles

De­spite ma­jor in­vest­ments to im­prove the re­li­a­bil­ity and com­fort of its buses, the So­ciété de trans­port de Mon­tréal has seen bus rid­er­ship plum­met in the last few years, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures ob­tained by the Mon­treal Gazette in an ac­cess-toin­for­ma­tion re­quest.

The find­ings come as most ma­jor cities in North Amer­ica are also strug­gling with de­clin­ing or stag­nat­ing num­bers. The re­quest was for bus rid­er­ship num­bers over the last 10 years, but the STM only pro­vided data span­ning 2012 to 2017, say­ing statis­tics for pre­vi­ous years were not avail­able.

The find­ings show a steep over­all de­cline of bus rid­er­ship by 13.32 per cent in that pe­riod, with the big­gest drop in 2015, when rid­er­ship plum­meted 6.38 per cent. From 2012 to 2017, the STM’s bus rid­er­ship dropped by more than 34 mil­lion trips per year.

“It’s alarm­ing,” said François Pepin, the pres­i­dent of the lobby group Tra­jec­toire Québec.

He pinned the blame on former Mon­treal mayor De­nis Coderre and his de­ci­sion to re­duce the bud­get of the STM in 2013 and 2014.

“In terms of kilo­me­tres driven, we never got back to the level we were at in 2012-2013,” Pepin said. “The ser­vice was re­duced by about three per cent, and that had an ef­fect on rid­er­ship across the board.”

In fact, the num­ber of kilo­me­tres driven by buses car­ry­ing pas­sen­gers in 2017 was pre­dicted to be about 67.2 mil­lion kilo­me­tres, ac­cord­ing to the STM’s 2018 bud­get, com­pared with 73 mil­lion kilo­me­tres driven by buses in 2012, a re­duc­tion of 7.9 per cent.

The STM de­clined re­peated re­quests for an in­ter­view with ei­ther Luc Trem­blay, the cor­po­ra­tion’s direc­tor gen­eral, or its chair­per­son, Philippe Sch­nobb. How­ever, STM spokesper­son Amélie Régis is­sued a five-sen­tence state­ment to ex­plain the de­cline.

She blamed con­struc­tion in the Mon­treal re­gion in part for the drop, and said as a re­sult of the in­creased con­ges­tion, the STM added ser­vice on cer­tain bus lines. She also blamed ex­ter­nal fac­tors like al­ter­na­tive trans­porta­tion op­tions (Bixi, Uber and car shar­ing). She said the growth in métro rid­er­ship is good news, and could show that pub­lic-tran­sit users will be more likely to take the métro be­cause it is not af­fected by con­ges­tion.

Tra­jec­toire Québec’s Pepin coun­tered that, while car shar­ing, Uber and bike-shar­ing ser­vices all seemed to gain users dur­ing that pe­riod, that doesn’t ac­count for a 13-per-cent de­cline.

An­other fac­tor af­fect­ing the de­cline could be the high num­ber of buses taken out for re­pairs. In 2017, 21.1 per cent of all buses were in the garage for re­pairs, up from 19.3 per cent the year be­fore.

While the bus ap­pears to be fall­ing out of favour for tran­sit rid­ers, the op­po­site is true for métro ser­vice. In fact, the STM’s over­all rid­er­ship grew by 4.25 per cent over the same pe­riod from 412.6 mil­lion trips in 2012 to 429.5 mil­lion trips in 2017. Pos­si­ble rea­sons for the métro’s bump could in­clude the ad­di­tion of the new Azur métro cars, which have more ca­pac­ity and are more com­fort­able than the older cars.

But among buses, even the STM’s most pop­u­lar and fre­quent routes are shed­ding rid­ers. Nine of the 10 most-used buses had shrink­ing rid­er­ship, and seven of those had de­clines of more than 12 per cent.

Pepin said tak­ing the bus is not an at­trac­tive prospect for many tran­sit users, but bus rid­er­ship is the back­bone of the tran­sit sys­tem, so if this trend con­tin­ues, it could neg­a­tively af­fect all forms of pub­lic tran­sit, and re­sult in even worse con­ges­tion on roads and high­ways.

He called on the STM to in­ject much more money into its bus net­work in or­der to en­tice peo­ple to take the bus.

“I would say the bus is not the most at­trac­tive mode of trans­porta­tion. Most buses are not air­con­di­tioned, and they are af­fected by con­ges­tion, so they’re not nec­es­sar­ily re­li­able,” he said. “When peo­ple stop tak­ing the bus, it’s very hard to get them back, and many will never go back.”

Pepin said the good news is that the STM is in­vest­ing in bus ser­vice, hav­ing boosted its re­served lanes to 350 kilo­me­tres on the is­land last year, and adding pri­or­ity traf­fic lights for buses at in­ter­sec­tions and ini­ti­at­ing the iBus ser­vice where users can track their buses. The STM has cre­ated a new op­er­a­tions cen­tre for buses to de­ploy the fleet in a more ef­fi­cient man­ner.

A McGill Univer­sity pub­lic tran­sit re­searcher said the STM’s sit­u­a­tion is not unique. Bus rid­er­ship ap­pears to be de­clin­ing or stag­nat­ing in all ma­jor North American cities.

Geneviève Boisjoly, a PhD stu­dent in Ur­ban Plan­ning at TRAM — Trans­porta­tion Re­search at McGill, re­cently pub­lished a study that ex­am­ined 25 cities in North Amer­ica. It con­cluded that it is the vol­ume of ser­vice, which she de­fines as kilo­me­tres trav­elled by the bus fleet, that had the great­est im­pact on rid­er­ship. The study found that for ev­ery 10 per cent in­crease in the vol­ume of bus ser­vice, there was an 8.27 per cent in­crease in over­all pub­lic tran­sit use.

“Most trips are made by bus and métro, so it’s re­ally im­por­tant to keep up the vol­ume of bus ser­vice,” said Boisjoly.

She said agen­cies can in­crease the vol­ume of bus ser­vice by buy­ing more buses, mak­ing routes more ef­fi­cient by adding bus lanes, and by in­vest­ing in main­te­nance in or­der to re­duce the num­ber of buses in the garage.

The STM is adding 300 new hy­brid buses to its fleet by the year 2020, and that will cer­tainly help, Boisjoly said.

It’s not all bad news for the STM. Some tar­geted bus routes have seen im­prove­ments in rid­er­ship, specif­i­cally on 15 key bus lines where ser­vice was boosted in Septem­ber 2016 in an ef­fort to re­duce con­ges­tion in the city.

Each of those lines saw sig­nif­i­cant upticks in rid­er­ship, with the 71 Du Cen­tre in LaSalle and Ver­dun registerin­g a 15.34 per cent in­crease in 2017. The 105 Sher­brooke St. bus in Notre-Dame-de- Grâce saw an 8.3 per cent in­crease in rid­er­ship last year af­ter the STM added 15 trips per day to the route.

The four new ex­press buses the STM put in place in 2012 to en­tice peo­ple to take the bus dur­ing the five-year re­con­struc­tion of the Tur­cot In­ter­change also seem to be bear­ing fruit, as rid­er­ship nearly dou­bled on bus Nos. 405, 425, 475 and 485.

Some other high­lights from the fig­ures ob­tained:

The most-trav­elled bus on the net­work was Bus 141 Jean-Talon-East, which links the St-Michel métro sta­tion at the east­ern end of the Blue Line to the Honoré-Beau­grand sta­tion at the east­ern end of the Green Line.

The least trav­elled is Bus 76 McArthur, which links the Du Col­lège métro sta­tion to McArthur St. in St-Lau­rent’s in­dus­trial sec­tor. It has two week­day de­par­tures, leav­ing the métro sta­tion at 9:41 p.m. and 10:05 p.m. With just 6,960 rid­ers through­out the year, which works out to just 27 pas­sen­gers per day.

Four out of five of the buses that saw the big­gest dips in rid­er­ship were ex­press buses (467 St-Michel, 435 Du Parc/Côte-des-Neiges, 430 Pointe-aux-Trem­bles, 420 Notre-Dame-de- Grâce). The fifth bus af­fected was Bus No. 144, Des Pins. The buses reg­is­tered rid­er­ship de­clines of be­tween 44.41 and 51.52 per cent.

The bus that saw the largest per­cent­age in­crease in rid­er­ship — 163.49 per cent — was Bus No. 475, the Dollard-des- Ormeaux ex­press bus, which links to the Côte-Vertu métro sta­tion from the Dollard Civic Cen­tre.

It was one of the four cre­ated as a mit­i­ga­tion mea­sure dur­ing the Tur­cot project.

 ?? DAVE SIDAWAY ?? STM fig­ures ob­tained by the Mon­treal Gazette show that bus rid­er­ship from 2012-2017 has fallen by 13.32 per cent, rep­re­sent­ing 34 mil­lion trips per year.
DAVE SIDAWAY STM fig­ures ob­tained by the Mon­treal Gazette show that bus rid­er­ship from 2012-2017 has fallen by 13.32 per cent, rep­re­sent­ing 34 mil­lion trips per year.
 ?? JOHN MA­HONEY ?? The 467 St-Michel bus was among those that saw the big­gest dip in rid­er­ship, some­thing that ap­pears to be stag­nant or on the de­cline in all ma­jor North American cities.
JOHN MA­HONEY The 467 St-Michel bus was among those that saw the big­gest dip in rid­er­ship, some­thing that ap­pears to be stag­nant or on the de­cline in all ma­jor North American cities.
 ?? DAVE SIDAWAY ?? The bus that saw the largest per­cent­age in­crease in rid­er­ship was the 475 Dollard-des-Ormeaux ex­press, up 163.49 per cent.
DAVE SIDAWAY The bus that saw the largest per­cent­age in­crease in rid­er­ship was the 475 Dollard-des-Ormeaux ex­press, up 163.49 per cent.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada