How much private involvement in our transit?

Yesterday, La Presse revealed that the Agence métropolitaine de transport has awarded a private company a contract to operate two “luxury” express bus lines. One will run between Vaudreuil and Côte-Vertu and another will connect the new Bell Canada campus on Nun’s Island with the South Shore. Both routes will feature air-conditioned buses, more comfortable seats and possibly even wifi internet.

L’AMT a confirmé à La Presse, hier, que le consortium Transdev-Limocar s’est vu attribuer pour cinq ans les contrats d’exploitation des nouveaux autobus express qui seront mis en service dès septembre prochain, et dont personne ou presque n’avait entendu parler avant le week-end dernier.

Le premier, l’Express de L’Île-des-Sœurs, fera la navette entre le nouveau campus industriel de Bell Canada, aménagé juste à l’entrée de Montréal, et les deux grands stationnements incitatifs de la Rive-Sud qui appartiennent à l’AMT, Chevrier et Panama.

Le second, l’Express Vaudreuil, créera une nouvelle liaison rapide entre la gare de train de banlieue de Vaudreuil-Dorion, où l’affluence est considérable, et le terminus Côte-Vertu, de l’AMT, situé juste à côté d’une station de métro, dans l’arrondissement de Saint-Laurent, au nord-ouest de Montréal.

Les deux services seront dispensés à des intervalles de 20 et 30 minutes, respectivement, durant les heures de pointe seulement.

La vice-présidente aux communications de l’AMT, Marie Gendron, a affirmé hier que l’exploitant de l’Express de L’Île-des-Sœurs, Transdev-Limocar, touchera une somme de 554 445$ par année, durant cinq ans, pour un minimum annuel de 3300 heures de service.

La valeur totale du contrat oscille autour de 2,8 millions.

Selon l’AMT, les frais d’exploitation de l’Express de L’Île-des-Sœurs seront assumés à 40% par Bell. L’AMT et la Ville de Longueuil partageront 10% de la facture. La moitié du financement proviendra du Fonds vert du gouvernement du Québec, qui subventionne les nouveaux services de transports en commun.

Mme Gendron n’a toutefois pu fournir les coûts d’exploitation prévus pour l’autre projet, l’Express Vaudreuil, ni les prévisions d’achalandage attendues, ni le seuil d’autofinancement espéré de ces projets de transports en commun.

Although its fare scheme has not been approved yet, the AMT plans to include access to the express buses within its TRAM 5 monthly pass, which costs $133 and includes access to buses, trains and metros throughout the Montreal region. It also plans to offer a $95.50 monthly pass that would give commuters access to the express bus only.

Not surprisingly, the AMT’s decision to award the contract to a private company has elicited a groan from the unions and the STM. The FTQ warned that the express buses would lead to “le transport en commun à deux vitesses.” The STM, meanwhile, said it had wanted to bid for the contract to operate the bus routes but that its bid was rejected by the AMT for unknown reasons.

Although we’ll have to wait to see what political manoeuvering led to the AMT’s decision, this raises the broader question of private-sector involvement in public transit: just how much do we want? Most major transit systems around the world include at least some private-public partnerships. Success seems to depend on the city: London has had some big problems with the companies hired to maintain its subway infrastructure, but in Hong Kong and Tokyo, public transit is operated efficiently and effectively by private companies.


  1. If air conditioning is the norm, then two-tiered transit is already here. The Montreal-Deux-Montagnes line is air conditioned, has luggage racks and is far more comfortable and faster than a bus. But it costs more than the bus.

    Also of note: The RTL also bid for the contract, among other companies. The fact that the buses needed to be air conditioned was probably a major factor in the RTL not getting the contract.

  2. That’s more or less my take on the matter. Montreal’s transit system is not two-tiered, it’s multi-tiered, and you can take different modes of transport for different prices. That kind of variety is only natural.

  3. Ya beaucoup de trop de privé au Québec dans des secteurs qui devraient revenir au Public.

    Mais bon, tant que c’est des lignes de banlieue, j’aurai pas à les prendre, mais ce serait inquiétant de voir le privé s’interesser au métro ou au ligne d’autobus montréalaise (la STM avait pas parlé de la possibilité de le faire au début de l’année?).

  4. Nothing wrong with it. It may even force the STM to improve areas of service. The private services will obviously be filling a specific niche at this point anyways.

  5. I would actually be excited to have a few more “tiers” of public transit services. Competition does a market good. I doubt we’ll ever see competitors driving the STM’s on-island routes, but wouldn’t it be sweet if you could choose to go with a different company with potentially different levels of reliability and luxury?

    I’d gladly pay more for a monthly pass if I could have more frequently departing air conditioned buses driven by guys who know not to slam the brakes and gas down constantly or take corners at high speed. I’ve seen people thrown off their feet or even out of their seats just because a significant portion of STM drivers seem to drive buses like one might drive a small car.

    A company like that driving local routes might just put the STM out of business. Especially if they kept operating when the STM’s next inevitable strike comes along.

  6. “this raises the broader question of private-sector involvement in public transit: just how much do we want?”

    As much as the market will bear. Choice is good. Breaking up the STM monopoly would be best.

  7. I’ve believed for a long time that the best way to convince commuters who can drive to work to take the transit instead is to offer cleaner and more comfortable rides.

    Air conditioning and sufficient heat in the winter is a must. If private firms can provide vehicle that meet the grade, great.

  8. While competition that leads to increased choice and improved service is great … I’m a little shocked at the idea that half of the money (one and a half MILLION dollars?) is coming from the Fonds Vert du gouv. du Quebec … and into the pockets of a private company?

    Last time I checked, air conditioned luxury buses were hardly an environmentally friendly choice.

    The entire transit network needs to be re-examined, upgraded; accessible and integrated metro, bus, train and tram network. Commuters should be demanding congestion pricing be implemented immediately, which would give the government no choice but to improve the mass transit system.

    Commuters need to start being responsible for the choices they make and understand the consequences of not implementing truly green measures right away.

    Check out to see results of recent studies looking at impact on health and what alternatives are happening elsewhere .

    Jody Negley

  9. “Environmentally friendly” or not, asking clients to swelter in the summer (or freeze in the winter. My beef: drivers who turn on the heat only for themselves in front) is not a way to build ridership.

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