It was to be the grand return of public transportation to Montreal, full of joy and joy.
The ribbon has been cut for the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM). Work on extending the Blue Line has finally begun. Light rail projects are being planned in Longueuil and the east of the island. There is talk of building a tram line in the southwest…
There is movement, new perspectives.
Unfortunately, it’s a series of errors that have attracted attention over the past week.
So much so that Transport Minister Genevieve Guilbault expressed blatant impatience with the Regional Metropolitan Transport Authority (ARTM), which runs this entire sector in Montreal.
She refused to say whether she still trusts her general manager, Benoît Gendron. Which sounds like a disavowal, let’s face it.
The source of his anger: embarrassing stories uncovered by my colleagues Tristan Peloquin, Henri Ouellet-Vezina, and Philippe Tessierra-Lessard.
They told how, in just a few hours, the 21-year-old Concordia graphic design student had managed to create (and install) a series of signs to guide users in the underground mazes between the metro and the Gare Centrale du REM station. This, while REM has already been in service for several weeks.
How, in three short months, a McGill University student also managed to program a program that allows the OPUS card to be recharged directly using his cell phone.
Several stories that don’t send “a signal of effectiveness” from ARTM, Genevieve Guilbault summarized Thursday on Radio-Canada.
It would be difficult to contradict her.
There are of course all kinds of nuances that need to be made, such as the fact that electronic payment applications must have multiple layers of security. ARTM has commissioned a company that should produce functional software in 2024.
We’ll give the runner a chance.
But this mobile payment drama remains frankly confusing, especially since we learned Wednesday morning, once again JournalismThe project has been in the works since 2018. More than five years ago!
It’s a long and incomprehensible journey, especially in Montreal, home to some of the largest AI laboratories on the planet.
Aside from the technological glitches and flagrant blunders, no matter how embarrassing, Minister Guilbault’s recent exit reveals the extent of the gap between Quebec’s expectations and ARTM’s performance on many issues.
The loss of trust is not complete, but the organization is closely monitored, as far as I know.
This hype should please no one.
Public transportation projects are becoming increasingly complex, increasingly expensive, and require strict management.
With the exception of the REM, a 67-kilometre light rail network developed by a subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt et Placement, construction sites are progressing at a snail’s pace in Quebec City.
It took four decades to successfully extend the metro blue line with five stations to Anjou. And 13 years since the inauguration of the Rapid Bus Service (SRB) on Boulevard Pie-IX, which is essentially a reserved lane in the middle of the road, equipped with new bus stops.
Often, projects are modified, shelved, and then re-announced at the whim of various governments. Nothing encourages motorists to store their cars in the garage…
ARTM was created in 2017 for excellent reasons. In particular, the goal was to supervise all public transportation planning in Greater Montreal, which until then had been divided between several companies, such as the Société des Transportes de Montréal (STM) and EXO.
The organization took several years to establish its authority among its partners. He was severely criticized by former Transport Minister François Bonnardel, in May 2022, for his failure to prioritize major public transport projects. The learning curve has been tough, and it’s not over yet.
In fact, it’s only in the last few months that ARTM and carriers have seemed to really want to move in the same direction. Various sources tell me that the tone and exchanges will be more constructive than ever.
This collaboration was tested during the commissioning of the first REM antenna a month ago. There were some hurdles, of course, and some blunders, but ARTM and its partners managed to work together. The disaster that some feared did not happen.
What does the future hold for ARTM?
Many people have asked this question since the last series of articles written by my colleague Tommy Chouinard. He revealed Quebec’s intention to create a new agency to supervise major public transportation projects at the provincial level.
This agency will regain part of the responsibilities of the Ministry of Transport, to implement major projects more quickly and efficiently, such as the new version of “REM de l’Est”.
Under one scenario being considered by Quebec, ARTM would retain responsibility for the design of the early stages of Montreal projects. Essentially: identifying needs on the ground, then proposing a route and mode, such as a tram or light rail. The completion of the projects will then be transferred to the Regional Agency, which will receive powers similar to those of the Fund to implement the REM in accelerated mode.
The idea is to define the ARTM’s responsibilities more precisely, to avoid any future confusion regarding the scope of its mandate.
The new regional agency, if it sees the light, will not be able to operate for a year, or likely two years, in the best-case scenario.
This threatens to delay the launch of essential public transit projects in Montreal and elsewhere in Quebec for many years. But if we can stop wasting time on bureaucratic confusion and tearing off T-shirts, it might be worth the effort.
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