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STM's $1.7-billion budget for 2023 includes a $77.8-million shortfall

The frequency of buses downtown will be affected, STM director general Marie-Claude Léonard says.

An STM bus waits at the 56th Ave. station during the opening of the SRB Pie-IX bus rapid transit project Nov. 2, 2022.
An STM bus waits at the 56th Ave. station during the opening of the SRB Pie-IX bus rapid transit project Nov. 2, 2022. Photo by John Mahoney /Montreal Gazette

Montreal’s transit agency said it will cut service to key bus routes and adjust the métro schedules to make up for a $77.8-million shortfall of funds in its 2023 budget.

The Société de transport de Montréal’s $1.7-billion budget includes a $77.8-million hole. The agency blamed inflation, lower ridership and a higher cost charged by taxi drivers transporting adapted transit customers for the shortfall. This is the second year in a row the agency tabled a deficit.

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Last year, the budget was tabled with $43 million missing, and over the course of 2022, the STM was able to find all but $18 million of that money. That means the missing $77 million for 2023 includes the $18 million the STM couldn’t find to balance its budget in 2022.

Presenting the budget to the media Monday morning, Société de transport de Montréal director general Marie-Claude Léonard said the agency will adjust its métro service next January by “microscopic” amounts.

On the Orange Line, that means that rush hour will see trains run just as often, but the rush hour will not last as long. On the Green Line, trains will be adjusted to run every 2 minutes and 45 seconds, from the current 2 minutes and 30 seconds, but rush hours will last long longer.

As for the bus service, Léonard was far less specific, but said some bus routes with fewer passengers will have cuts, while others could have increases. Roughly 10 per cent of bus routes will see some kind of reduction, she said.

However, she noted the frequency of buses in the downtown area will be reduced, as the core is still affected by the increase in telecommuting.

The STM also disclosed that it will be running only 1,343 buses per day, which is more than the 1,320 deployed this fall, but well short of its pre-pandemic level of 1,425. Since that time, the STM’s fleet has actually increased to 2,031 buses. So that means only roughly one third of the transit agency’s buses are kept parked in the garage every day.

“We adjusted the service with little impact for users,” STM board of directors chairperson Éric Alan Caldwell said in an interview. “But we have to keep it at that level (cutting) more would make us less attractive, and we don’t want to do that.”

The service cuts will come into effect at the beginning of the year, and if the STM doesn’t receive more funding, or find a new source of revenue during the year, it may have to cut again.

Caldwell admitted the STM has a problem with getting its buses to their stop on time, and said failure for buses to arrive on time will spur people to find alternate means to get to their destination.

“We have to be better at punctuality, and the offer of service in 2023 will be a reflection of a new reality in Montreal,” Caldwell said.

Over the course of last year, there was a decline in the number of commercial kilometres driven by buses compared with the previous year. It was the second year in a row the STM offered less bus service.

The budget will include a $1.39-billion contribution from the ARTM, $181 million from real-estate holdings and $16 million in payment for services offered to the ARTM. There’s also $37 million from other sources, including Transgesco S.E.C. — the third-party company that takes care of advertising for the transit agency.

The STM said it was able to limit the increase in expenses by roughly eight per cent compared with 2022, which is in line with inflation.

Reacting to the budget, Christine Black, the city’s opposition Ensemble Montréal spokesperson on transit matters, said Montrealers should be disappointed in the second year in a row of tabling a deficit.

“The worst part of this bad management is that the administration doesn’t have the honesty to tell Montrealers that it will cut services,” Black said in a statement. “All it has done is to wait for money from the province, while negotiations with the government have come to a dead end.”

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