The road to the future

09/27/2017
  • Magazine

Major transformation and social technological advancements: a look at downtown Montreal’s transit system

THE REM: AN ELECTRIC TRAIN SYSTEM THAT WILL BENEFIT THE DOWNTOWN AREA

The farthest reaches of it’s four lines will be Brossard, Deux-Montagnes, Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue and the Pierre-Elliot-Trudeau airport, and they will converge in downtown Montreal, where 45,000 passen- gers will embark each morning. When it’s completed, the light-rail train will transport 167,000 people every day, almost double the amount of current suburban trains. The complete network will include 27 stations, accessible by foot, by bike, by bus and by car. Going from downtown to the airport will take 26 minutes, to the South Shore, 16 minutes, and to Deux-Montagnes, 35 minutes.

On the mockups , it is elegant, svelte, modern, and will make you want to hop aboard. The future REM (Réseau éléctrique métropolitain, or Metropolitan Electric Network in English), led by a subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, called CDPQ Infra, should be on the rails toward the end of 2020. At that point, its routes will occupy 67 km, as compared to the Montreal metro’s 71 km and, in terms of size, it will become the fourthlargestautomated transport system in the world. Two consortiums chosen in the fall of 2017— one to build the infrastructure and one for all the moving vehicles—will put the system in place section by section. “Montreal will finally have a rail link between the airport and downtown, like all modern cities,” exclaims Normand Pépin, President of Transport 2000 Québec, an organization dedicated to the promotion of efficient and sustainable means of transport and to the interests of public transport users.

The driverless train, powered by a single overhead line, will connect with three downtown locations: the Peel basin and the McGill and Bonaventure metro stations. Toward the north, the lightrail train will be connected to the blue line of the metro at the Édouard-Montpetit station, to serve the Université de Montréal crowd, as well as Sainte-Justine Hospital, among others. Between the  downtown  area (McGill) and  Université de Montréal, the passage under the mountain will take only three minutes. “According to our studies, among the different poles that the REM will be serving, thedowntown areais oneofthemostimportantpoints of contact,” remarks Louis-Vincent Lacroix, spokesman for the CDPQ Infra. “People come here to work, but also to see a show or go to a restaurant without having to look for parking. Since the trains will pass every five minutes, outside of rush hour, going back home will be much  easier.” The REM will operate 20 hours a day, 7  days a  week, between 5 a.m. and 1 a.m. In the central section downtown, between the Bois-Francs and Brossard stations,  the  trains will pass  every 2.5 minutes during rush hours. “Contact between the REM and downtown is one of the conditions of success,” adds François Pepin. “It’ll encourage even more people to use public transport to downtown, because of the speed, the cost and the flexibility.”

CDPQ Infra, as well as the federal and provincial governments, have already confirmed their financial support of  REM for  this project  that will cost around CAD 6 billion. La Caisse will be providing CAD 2.67 billion, the provincial government, CAD 1.28 billion and the federal government, CAD 1.3 billion. Hydro-Québec will provide CAD 295 million in the form of commercial contracts with a major client and the ARTM (Autorité régionale des transports métropolitains, or Metropolitan Regional Transportation Authority in English), CAD  512  million. It is predicted that passengers will have an average commute of 10-15 km. They can buy tickets through the RTM (Réseau de transport métropolitain, or Metropolitan Transportation Network in English), which is currently working to sync up the rates for the entire network of Greater Montreal. Essentially, a single transport pass should suffice to take the metro, the bus, the train, in the city and the suburbs alike, as well as connecting passengers  between networks.

Bikes may be brought on board, for the most part, following the same regulations as the Montreal metro. “We’re working with Vélo Québec and Bixi to improve the current paths at REM stations, as well as with Car2go, Communauto, Téo Taxi and Netlift to refine the different methods of accessing REM stations,” explains Lacroix recounts.

. . . A SINGLE TRANSPORT PASS SHOULD SUFFICE TO TAKE THE METRO, THE BUS, THE TRAIN, IN THE CITY AND THE SUBURBS.

“It’s a thrilling project that has been highly anticipated since 1978, in particular by daily users of the Champlain Bridge,” Pepin states. “It has the advantage of injecting new money into the metropolitan transportation system, which is something important.” According to him, the REM will convince even more people that public transport is the best way to access the downtown area. The work involved in the Bill 137 Project (the bill concerning the REM) will be taken up once more in the fall parliamentary session. This bill should, among other things, permit Quebec to manage the expropriations involved, so that the project can get going.

TAILORED TRANSPORTATION: THE AUTORITÉ RÉGIONALE DE TRANSPORT MÉTROPOLITAIN UNVEILS ITS NEW PLANS

Currently, public transit users who rely on multiple different modes of transport to get to and from work are required to purchase a different fare card for every individual mode of transport they use. However, in the near future, a single card will give commuters access to all the city’s public transit services. It’s called public transport integration and it’s the magical new catch phrase when it comes to city mobility. Created on July 1, 2017, the all-new Autorité régionale de transport métropolitain (ARTM) is actively working towards implementing the concept in our city. Working with the Quebec government and the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal, the ARTM plans on rethinking and reorganizing Montreal’s public  transport system. “We can’t limit ourselves to what we’re currently accustomed to; we need to breathe new life into our transport system,” explains Paul Côté, ARTM Director General. “We want to reinvent public transit, to generate buzz, and encourage residents to be excited about integrated mobility in the Greater Montreal region.”

In short, the goal is to harmonize and simplify the city’s public transit system, to offer its users a newer, fresher concept, to address challenges currently faced by the system and define the planning and financing of the project over the next 10 years. The ARTM doesn’t have a long-term creative vision just yet, but the above are the guiding principals behind what they would like to  accomplish.

Côté looks to other countries for inspiration, including Finland, who created MAAS (Mobility as a Service). “All the public transit systems in the world are talking about MAAS,” explains Côté. In closed-looped transportation systems, users no longer buy only one pass to get from point A to point B. The focus is on offering a fluidity that allows users to pass seamlessly from one mode of transport to the next. “Public transport users expect this,” adds Côté.

In order for integrated mobility to work, various transportation modes now have contractual obligations towards one another. They must work hand in hand to offer solutions that simplify their customers’ lives. Mobility within one’s own territory is great, but it’s important to start offering mobility across the entire transport network.

Building your own fare card

The goal is to allow public transport users to choose among various modes and create a tailored fare card to fit their needs. There is no universal formula when it comes to public transportation—the needs of each individual are constantly changing. “My personal combination could be a bit of Bixi, a bit of Téo taxi, a bit of Netlift, the occasional bus and never the metro,” explains Côté. “As a paying customer, I should be able to use my phone to make a single payment, according to the parameters I myself defined within the system.” It’s also a question of social pricing. “It’s what the population expects,” claims Côté. Social pricing means reduced rates for certain individuals, including students (even those who are 35 or 48 years old), as well as senior citizens, individuals with reduced mobility and those living on low income. “What we need is to alter our way of thinking, to make major changes to some of the ideas already in place,” adds Côté. “If we limit our vision or our dreams because of material or technological constraints, we will never succeed.” For successful  integration,  it’s  also vital to communicate with customers. For example, each transportation network involved in a customer’s commute from Varennes to downtown or to the airport should not only help facilitate said commute by coordinating various services offered, but also keep the customer abreast of the network’s status at all times. When a passenger is aware of the network’s real-time conditions, they can come up with an alternate route in the event of, say, an outage. “But that’s still a little ways off,” clarifies Côté.

Another issue is the availability of services outside of rush hour. Currently, suburban trains run primarily morning and evening, getting commuters to and from work. However, outside of rush hour, trains are few and far between. With the new model, a commuter will be able to head from downtown to Saint-Hilaire for a picnic and come back whenever they want, without having to wait forever for the next train. “The REM, which will be a huge source of mobilization when it comes to public transit, will help us progress in this direction,” says Côté.

The ARTM’s draft strategic plan is expected to be ready in the fall of 2018.

In many ways, Quebec is an early adopter when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs). Our province already has 14,390 registered EVs on our roads (with the Chevrolet Volt being the most popular)—that accounts for nearly 50% of all electric cars in Canada. And according to the government, our province has all the elements required to play a leading role in the field of electric and intelligent mobility. “First and foremost, we are a world power in terms of clean electricity generation when it comes to hydro,” explains Dominique Anglade, Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation for the Government of Quebec. “But also because we have aluminum, and companies in the field,” she adds, pointing to Verbom, an automotive parts company that supplies to Tesla.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is another field where Montreal is quickly earning a reputation as a global hotspot. Local AI incubator Element AI recently received major financial backing from tech behemoths Microsoft and Intel. AI of the likes being developed here will be the brains behind self-driving vehicles and will definitely help to fast lane them into  the mainstream.

A new cluster of electric and smart vehicles

“What we felt was missing was a cluster that was going to be able to manage all the different players and make sure that they could focus on concrete initiatives,” says Anglade about the province’s decision to launch the Industrial Cluster for Electric and Smart  Vehicles. The cluster’s aim is to position Quebec among world leaders in the development and deployment of electric and intelligent vehicles and products, and services related to them. A key milestone on the cluster’s horizon is the year 2025, which is viewed as a tipping point of sorts for the wide-spread adoption of electric vehicles and the emergence of more autonomous vehicles on our streets.

Alexandre Taillefer, a serial entrepreneur, and the man behind the all-electric taxi fleet company Téo, also sits on the cluster’s advisory committee. A major figure working to reinvent transit in our city, Taillefer believes it will require some 10 to 15 years, but eventually we’ll see self-driven cabs in Montreal.

Our love affair with the car will fade

Taillefer also feels strongly about our city’s need to focus more on improving public transit, and that as a society we need to start weaning ourselves from the love affair we have with  our cars. “It’s very costly to have individual cars. It’s the number one criteria that creates impoverishment, both individually and globally as a society,” says Taillefer. Demographics are also determining how transportation models will evolve. Millenials for example, just aren’t that into cars. Unlike previous generations, they don’t view the car as a symbol of open-road freedom and, therefore, aren’t rushing to get their driver’s license once they hit legal age. They are also at ease with technology and the idea of sharing resources online, which will lead to an increase in ridesharing, and less cars on the road. “They prefer to have a phone rather than a car because, obviously, their budget is not unlimited and they prefer to play with their phone and watch videos, and they can’t do that behind the wheel,” says Taillefer of millenials and how their habits will drive demand for shared and automated transportation.

Taillefer also points to the fact that our population is aging rapidly, which will result in a host of transportation issues, including an explosion in the demand for paratransport. “We will need to take into consideration wheelchairs and people with limited mobility and come up with more point-to-point solutions,” says Taillefer.

Transport as a service

Taillefer says all these trends will move us towards adopting transport as a service, similar to how we consume data with our mobile phone plans. “You’ll be able to get a public transport card for $85 but you could end up paying $195 and that will include a certain amount of cab rides, unlimited Bixi and some ridesharing time as well,” explains Taillefer.

What is clear about the future of mobility in Montreal is that we’re headed full speed towards something that’s cleaner, smarter, and that will look very different from what we’re used to today. And as a city, we’re in the driver’s seat, making this happen.

 

ACCESSING AN ACCESSIBLE CITY: STILL A DREAM?

 

Between work, training, outings with friends and weekly volunteering, Omar Lacheeb’s life is far from boring. Without STM’s paratransit services,  the  Montrealer  would  have to essentially cancel his life. However, the equation of his activities plus paratransport equals having to carefully plan and organize his travel, leaving little room for spontaneity. “I have to plan my trips at least 24 hours in advance to make sure I can reserve adapted bus services. At the moment I’m hesitant to take regular public transport because so few stations are wheelchair accessible.” At present, only 12 of the STM’s 66 stations have elevators—a far cry from Barcelona, where Lacheeb vacationed last summer. “I was able to get around on public transport almost all the time, because 95% of the stations are universally accessible. I felt so free!”

In October 2016, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre and STM Chairman of the Board Philippe Schnobb jointly announced a $213 million dollar investment to bring to 31 the number of universally accessible STM stations, and this, by the year 2022. It’s a positive sign, according to Montréal Urban Ecology Center Executive Director Véronique Fournier. “Of course we’d be happier if the project was moving faster, but we’re also aware of the size of the project,” she added. “Nevertheless, when new projects are developed— whether they be public or private—accessibility has to be an essential condition to their  approval.”

Culture shift

Accessibility to Montreal businesses needs to be a priority, and fast, according to Lynda Gauthier, President of the Regroupement des activistes pour l’inclusion au Québec. “Those with reduced mobility often end up frequenting the same places simply because they have no other choice,” Gauthier states. In keeping with its universal accessibility policy, last April, the city of Montreal established the Programme d’accessibilité aux commerces (PAAC). To assist businesses seeking to make their establishments universally accessible, a total budget of $1.6 million dollars in subsidies will be available between now and 2022. PAAC will reimburse up to 75% of construction fees, up to $10 000.

“That fund could cover the installation of a handrail, an automatic door or an elevator,” explained the city’s Spokesperson Philippe Sabourin. “We’re confident that we’ll reach our goal of 40 adaptation projects for 2017.” The initiative strikes Lynda Gauthier as inadequate; she’d rather there be strict accessibility policies for businesses, as there are in Victoriaville. “We ask that all business owners with ground-floor stores ensure they’re wheelchair accessible. Nobody finds that excessive!” she adds.

A turn in the right direction

Omar Lacheeb already has one tip to convince business owners to make their shops accessible: talk to them personally and raise awareness. Lacheeb volunteers with the organization J’accède Québec, who build and distribute temporary wood wheelchair ramps to small businesses. The goal? Let people know that individuals with reduced mobility have purchasing power.

“Without spontaneous transportation solutions, and universal access to businesses, we feel like our participation in society is minimized,” concludes Lacheeb.

Text: Guy Sabourin

Photo: CDPQ

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