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Canada

STM heads should be fired, Montreal opposition councillors say

Montreal opposition councillors are calling for the heads of the managers of the city’s transit agency, saying they have proven their incompetence during the current bus crisis.

The Société de transport de Montréal is in the midst of a severe maintenance backlog. The transit agency has more than 1,800 buses in its fleet and needs 1,425 on the road to guarantee its posted schedules. However, it has fallen well short of that number since the beginning of October, resulting in hundreds of hours of bus service cut every day.

The shortage has become so dire, the STM has resorted to renting coach-style buses to meet its service commitments. On Tuesday, the STM posted on its website that it only had 1,292 buses on the road during peak periods.

Opposition councillor Marvin Rotrand called on Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante to dismiss both STM chairman Philippe Schnobb and its director general, Luc Tremblay, for mismanaging the situation.

“I don’t have the confidence in Philippe Schnobb and Luc Tremblay, and the public is now asking questions about the STM’s leadership,” Rotrand said. “There needs to be a shakeup at the STM; this is a major failure to deliver service.”

Lionel Perez, the leader of opposition Ensemble Montréal, agreed.

“(STM management) seems to always have an excuse instead of taking responsibility,” Perez said. “It’s getting to the point where I believe the mayor has to have a serious reflection about the future of the STM and the people at the top.”

Perez is also calling for the city to institute a charter of rights for transit users that would have benchmarks for the STM to respect. He said that would add accountability and motivate the transit agency to meet its service commitments.

Perez said he was not impressed by Schnobb’s attitude during a recent presentation to city council.

“(Schnobb) said people’s perceptions about the increase of breakdowns and reduced service levels are an urban legend; I think that’s insulting to the public who experience those interruptions,” he said.

Rotrand, who was on the STM’s board of directors until the Plante administration turfed him last year, said the STM board has shown poor judgment, particularly in its decision to renew Tremblay’s salary with a hefty raise during one of the worst years of service in the agency’s history.

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The renewed contract calls for Tremblay to earn $452,160.12 in 2019, up from $397,491 the previous year — a 13.8-per-cent increase. Rotrand said that’s an obscene amount, especially considering the current state of the STM and that his counterpart at the Toronto Transit Commission, Rick Leary, earned $337,086 in 2018. His salary for 2019 was not available.

Adding to the chorus of those calling for Schnobb and Tremblay to go is Gleason Frenette, the president of the STM’s maintenance union. He said the leaders showed their incompetence by causing the current crisis, which saw them implement a new software management system just before winter and at a time when the fleet was already depleted. He said because of that software implementation, the STM continues to struggle to get parts out to maintenance employees, meaning his members often sit around for hours without anything to do because they don’t have access to the parts they need to repair buses. In the meantime, the STM is farming out repair work to private companies.

“Since Tremblay has been in place, it has been a fiasco,” Frenette said. “But this latest move was totally amateurish. Management has shown its incompetence in managing the bus fleet. It’s been many years like this, and it just doesn’t work.”

Speaking for Plante, Geneviève Jutras said the STM has put forward a plan to solve the problems with the bus fleet and the mayor is confident they will improve the situation by January.

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