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The Société de Transport de Montréal
(referred to as STM), is the provider of public transportation for the Island
of Montreal. It offers three main services: buses, paratransit and a subway
(referred to as the metro). It also offers a train service to reach the suburbs
in conjunction with another government agency; the Agence Métropolitaine de
Transport (referred to as the AMT). According to the latest available
statistics, 2016, there were 416.2 million individual trips on all of 3 of
their services.  This represents an
increase of 0.7% on the ridership of 2015. Of those trips, 3.81 million were
from their adapted transport sector, a division that has services that are
specifically tailored to those with reduced mobility. They had at that time, 30
329 people in that program. Their annual budget for the past year was $1.4

History: According to their website, public
transportation has been a feature of Montreal for the past 150 years. It has
operated different services and under various names. It all began with the
commission of a tramway system, consisting of horse drawn train cars on rails
throughout down-town Montreal. It would continue in such a manner until 1951
when, after changing its name several times, it officially became a public
company. The first bus line would be inaugurated in 1956 and the first subway
line in 1966. The subway or metro was in part created for Expo 67, when the
world’s fair came to Montreal. It would finally take the name Société de
transport de Montréal changing its name one final time from Société de
transport de la Communauté Urbaine de Montréal2.
Today, there are more than 186 daytime bus routes and 23-night routes. The subway’s
four lines are home to 68 stations; with more stations slated to be opened with
the new expansion plans.

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Their mission statement is as follow: “A
public corporation, the STM serves the mobility needs of residents and visitors
by offering an efficient public transit system (bus and metro). It thus
strengthens the reputation of metropolitan Montréal as an urban centre with a
high quality of life and a prosperous economic hub that is respectful of the
environment3.” Whether
they have achieved this mission or not will be the main topic of this essay.


Accessibility is a key part of the concept
of urban public transport. Mobility reduced individuals have very different
needs than the rest of the population. For a long time, they were an afterthought
in the development of public transit and general infrastructure in Montreal.
Now, decades after the development of what we know as the STM, they are finally
trying to catch up to the needs of a non-negligible part of the population. The
STM structures its corporate policy concerning accessibility the following way:

accessibility touches upon all aspects of urban life and is open to everyone.
All citizens are entitled to its benefits, at the same time and in the same
manner. Universal accessibility promotes a similar use by all of the
opportunities presented by infrastructure and public services. In practice,
universal accessibility allows one to enter a building or public area, find
one’s bearings and adequately make one’s way, as well as make full use of the
services provided to the population, supported by appropriate communications
and information tools4.”

This is confusing because while it might be
the ethos of the STM of today, it couldn’t be more different than the practices
of their originators back in the 1960s. What follows is a breakdown of the current
state of accessibility of the transit system today, and what is being done to
change it and remediate the mistakes of the past.

Better Accessibility: Metro

The Montreal metro has long been criticized
for its accessibility or lack there of. At its inception there weren’t any
stations that were wheelchair accessible. This effectively banned residents
with reduced mobility from taking the subway. They were instead relegated to
buses and other forms of adaptive transport.  Basically, they are at the mercy of the availability
and schedules of paratransit buses. This issue was made even worse by the
difficult Montreal winters, getting a wheelchair on a bus is obviously even
more difficult with snow.

The first stations to include elevators
were the ones that were part of the metro’s expansion into Laval, in 2007.
Since then, in a decade, less than ten more have received elevators. This
extremely sluggish pace has been widely criticized, prompting the chairman of
the STM’s board, Philippe Schnobb, to promise an acceleration of the speed from
1.2 stations a year to 2.3 stations a year5.  The reason behind the slow pace isn’t a lack
of will to remediate this problem. Simply put, the archaic design of most
subway stations makes retrofitting for elevators and ramps near to impossible
and hugely expensive. It costs approximately $15 million per station, with some
costing even more than $18 million. Many stations are several 100s of feet
underground and only currently accessible by stairs and escalators; so, there
isn’t any place for an elevator shaft. These will have to be drilled and ramps
will have to be installed. The short-sightedness of the original creators of
the metro is negatively affecting the lives of thousands of commuters to this

In 2009, it was decided that enough was
enough, the entire metro system would be retrofitted to be more accessible by
2038. Currently, only 12 out of 68 of all Montreal subway stations are
accessible from street level. However, it is worth noting that they aren’t
accessible from all entrances; most only have one that is wheelchair
accessible. This creates problems as the metro’s bus stops aren’t always in
front of that entrance. This complicates things as the mobility reduced often
have to find their way to the other entrance; having to cross busy streets and
other similar problems. In 2016, the STM announced a plan to add elevators to
another 14 stations. In conjunction with funds from both the provincial and
federal governments, 31 stations will be accessible by 20226.
The total grant from those governments is for $213 million. The plans include
the Jean-Talon station, a transfer station between 2 lines, and several others.
Missing from the list are several of the end of line stations such as Agrignon
and Saint-Michel. This is extremely problematic, as most of the bus lines that
depart for the suburbs, like the ones that serve the West Island, leave from
these “terminus” stations. For example, the only option for someone wanting to
take a bus to the West Island would be to get off at Lionel-Groulx and take a
bus to Agrignon, instead of just continuing 7 more stops on the green line.
Compounding this problem is the fact that those particular stations aren’t on
the list of those that will be the first to become accessible. There isn’t even
a timetable for when this will happen.

The issue is now in the courts with “Le
Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec” getting approval for a
lawsuit citing the system’s lack of accessibility. Their reasoning, explained
by their vice-president, is that: “people with limited mobility pay the same as
everyone else, but don’t get the same level of service.” The class action
lawsuit is being brought on the behalf of some 20 000 mobility reduced
individuals. They are seeking $1.5 billion in damages for the failures of the
STM to provide adequate transport, which discriminated against wheelchair bound
patrons by not offering them the same quality of services as the other users of
the system7.

There haven’t been any expansions of the
subway system on the Island of Montreal since its inception.  This doesn’t include the three stations
present in Laval, as they aren’t on the Island of Montreal itself. This will
soon change with a proposal to extend the blue line further east. The expansion
is estimated to cost $28 billion, with $20 billion coming from the federal
government and the rest from the provincial government8.
This expansion is long overdue since the population and size of the city have
greatly increased. The urban sprawl has changed since the 1960s, when the metro
was first created. The STM has declared that it will be accessible; it will
have ramps and elevators. The stations openings are slated for 2025.


Para-Transport started out in 1972 as a
private venture of the Forest brothers. Noticing a lack of adaptive transport;
they started their own service that would expand and grow in popularity. This
would eventually become known as the “Minibus Forest”. By 1979, it had expanded
to a fleet of 16 cars; a noticeable expansion from their modest origins. Despite
this growth, it was still woefully inadequate to respond to the needs of the
affected on the Island of Montreal. The public transport agency of the time,
the CTCUM or Commission de transport de la Communauté urbaine de Montréal, took
over the service. What would follow was a rapid campaign of modernisation and
expansion. The 70 000 yearly trips in 1979 grew to close to 180 000 in 1981 and
a million by 19949.
The paratransit system is now a focal point of transit in Montreal. It now
services 30 000 customers with 3.81 million yearly trips. According to their
surveys, the service has a 93% customer satisfaction rating, 5% better than the
regular bus service10.

There are several criteria that must be met
in order for someone to be eligible to use reduced mobility transport:

*is a
handicapped person, i.e., a person with a deficiency causing a significant and
persistent disability, who is liable to encounter barriers in performing
everyday activities

limited mobility justifying the use of paratransit. Only the following
disabilities shall be considered for eligibility purposes:

to walk 400 metres on even ground

to climb steps 35 centimetres high with support, or descend without support

to make an entire trip using regular public transit

to keep track of time or find their bearings

to handle situations or behaviour that could compromise their own safety or
that of others

to communicate verbally or through sign language; this limitation alone does not qualify the
applicant for paratransit eligibility11.

It used to take 45 days
for someone to be approved after they had sent in the required forms. That
delay has now been reduced to only 20. The reason for such as thorough vetting
process is to “filter” out any illegitimate candidates. Once someone is
accepted as a registered member, they can then book trips online or over the phone.
However, this must be done in advance. The fact that this service is only
available on a reservation basis isn’t ideal for mobility reduced individuals,
as the ability to book a ride on the same day is almost impossible. It is still
however an improvement from when the service was first offered back in the
1970s. The paratransit compares very favorably to other similar and equivalent
services offered in North America12.

Respect of the environment.

As expressed in their
mission statement; respect of the environment is a key tenant of their core
values. Conscientious environmental decisions are also a fundamental tenant of
sustainable development of the city. This affects their purchasing, day-to-day
operations and even ad campaigns. Overall, the STM is considered to be among
the ten most green public transit agencies in North America by the American
Public Transportation Association. So much so that it was awarded the “Gold
Level Distinction in the Sustainability Commitment” by that very organisation13.  This award is well deserved; yet there are
still areas in which the public transit system could be more “green”. The main
area is the bus network, as the subway functions on renewable electricity
generated by the hydro-electric dams in the north of the province. The bus
fleet could be improved upon. Until they recently started phasing in new
models, the older models ran on petroleum based diesel. In 2012, the STM bought
509 bio-diesel buses from Nova Bus for $471 million14. Some
of these buses will replace existing buses, while others will be used for new
lines. There are two major benefits of having bio-diesel. First of all, it is
estimated that the use of bio-diesel, a plant based propellant, would reduce
green house gases by 7% yearly compared to regular diesel15. The
technology will also help register fuel savings of up to 30% on the entirety of
the network. The STM has also committed to purchasing electric buses
exclusively when they become more prevalent on the market. Not yet available,
the city predicts that they will be a sight on the streets of Montreal starting
in 202516. There
are currently three 100% electric buses in the STM’s fleet.

Corporate Structure

Corporate Structure: Ultimately, the STM
and its governors are beholden to the politicians at city hall. The politicians
have the last say, create long term projects and approve the budget. This can
be troublesome, as different administrations will have different goals and outlooks.
One administration might favour the expansion of the metro; while another might
want to expand the bus fleet. These conflicting agendas make the job of those
who run the day-to-day challenging. That job falls to a board of governors, who
develop strategic plans for development, authorize pricing changes of fares,
change routes and services if need be, adopt the budget and the three-year
capital expenditures program17.
From these directives, the rest of the staff are divided into different
departments with their own section heads who answer to the board. It is worth
noting that since they are a public company; all of their meetings can be
watched online. They also publish reports surrounding everything that they do.
These reports are all accessible online.

The board of directors have three types of
meetings or proceedings: work sessions, public meetings and committee meetings
to discuss particular ideas in smaller, more specialized groups. The public
meetings are held ten times a year, they are open to anyone to attend and even
ask questions. This helps them be closer to their target audience, users of
their services on the Island of Montreal.

The STM has a section on their website
dedicated specifically to press releases. Their frequency varies greatly.
Sometimes there are several in a month, sometimes they are every 7 weeks. There
doesn’t seem to be a trend in that regard. They mostly cover superficial
details of the running of the STM, with articles such as “A tribute to Leonard
Cohen” and a contest for re-designing the interior of the Vendome Metro
station. Occasionally they will include details on future projects such as the
investment of $300 million for an underground garage in Côte-Vertu. Finally,
they also talk about day-to-day dealings like the creation of reserved bus
lanes and other pertinent information to their service.

The STM strives to gain as much feedback as
possible from its ridership. For that reason, it hosts several online surveys
directly accessible on its website. They survey multiple issues; including
whether monthly pass holders should be allowed to enter the bus from the rear
doors in order to alleviate wait times at busy bus stops. They recently
launched a campaign called “Ma Voix Ma STM”, which is an online survey tool
where participants have the opportunity to gain prizes for answering the
survey. It covers everything from major projects like bus timetables to
individual ridership experiences18.
For more important and pressing concerns, they host meetings in the form of
town hall debates, where all are welcome. One such occurrence was the problem
surrounding the outdated layout of the Vendome metro station. It is walking
distance from the new McGill University Health Center hospital but is seriously
outdated when it comes to accessibility. The findings of these meetings were
that while Vendome station was adequately renovated, there would be a
designated shuttle service from the hospital’s door to the next closest
station: Lionel-Groulx19.

Overall, the STM is doing a good job, as
its earlier expressed rating as one of the top ten public transit companies in
North America. However, there is room for improvement, particularly when it
comes to the speed at which they make their decisions. The fact that they take
their directions from elected officials does hamstring them; with every new
election, their focus can be potentially re-centered by a different
administration. They also have a sizeable and militant union which has
sometimes been accused of slowing things down.

The state of the Montreal public transit
network is better than average. As expressed earlier, the one area in which
improvement is needed is in rendering the subway system more accessible.
However, it is a slow process hampered by inherent design flaws and lack of
resources. Only once this is achieved can the STM truly boast to being a
transit system for all; as expressed in their mission statement.

Looking forward, there are several projects
and goals that the STM has set for itself as outlined in their strategic plan
for 2020. These goals are additional to the previously stated ones like adding
elevators. They include increasing ridership by 8%, expanding the subway east
and even creating a tramway system in the heart of the city20.

1 Régis, Amélie. “2015 annual report: moving toward customer
experience excellence.” Société de
transport de Montréal, 7 Apr. 2016,—moving-toward-customer-experience-excellence.

2 “Company timeline.” Société de transport de Montréal,

3 “About the STM.” Société de transport de Montréal,

4 “Universal accessibility.” Société de transport de Montréal,

ACCESSIBLE BY 2022.” Société de
transport de Montréal, Nov. 10ADAD, 2016,–14-additional-metro-stations-to-be-accessible-by-2022.

6 News, CBC. “14 more Montreal Metro stations to get elevators by
2022.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 11 Oct. 2016,

7 Cohen, Howard. “Court approves class-Action lawsuit against
Montreal, regional transit authorities.” Global News, 29 May 2017,

8″STM plans for 2025 include long-Gestating blue metro line
extension.” Montreal, 30 Aug. 2017,

9 “Eligibility criteria.” Société de transport de Montréal,

10″Rapport Annuel 2016.” Société de transport de

11″Eligibility criteria.” Société de transport de

12″Rapport Annuel 2016.” Société de transport de

13 Tremblay, Isabelle. “The STM receives Gold level distinction in
sustainable development from the American Public Transportation Association.” Société de transport de Montréal, 13 June 2014,

14″The STM announces the purchase of regular biodiesel-Electric
buses.” Société de transport de
Montréal, 4 July 2012,

15 “Sustainable Development Highlights.” Société
de transport de Montréal,

16″Bus network electrification.” Société de
transport de Montréal, 21 Sept. 2017,

17 “Board of directors.” Société de transport de Montréal,

18″Ma voix ma STM.” Société de transport de

19 “Vendôme.” Société de transport de Montréal,

20 “Plan Stratégique 2020.” Société de transport de Montréal, 

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