Public transportation workers protest lack of funding

Three major unions representing public transit workers are demanding that the government keep their promise to pay the deficit

Workers of transport unions protesting outside of Transport Minister Genevieve Guilbault’s office in downtown Montreal. Photo Corinne Boyer

On Nov. 14, hundreds of bus drivers, maintenance employees, and other staff from public transport companies protested in front of Transport Minister Geneviève Guilbault’s office to petition for more investments in transportation.

The demonstration, which started at 10 a.m. had union workers sounding their horns, blasting music, and holding signs of Minister Guilbault’s face that said “return of the sardine class in buses,” mocking her refusal to invest in public transport until ridership returns to higher levels of commuters.

The protest was planned in retaliation to her government’s proposal in late October to pay only 20 per cent of Quebec’s collective transport $2.5 billion deficit. Four of the union presidents spoke at 11:45 a.m. to denounce this lack of investment.

“We all know that the government must give more money to the Société de Transport,” said Julie Sigouin, president of the Société de Transport de Laval (STL) drivers’ union. “With more money, we’re going to be able to have more buses on the road and more trains in the metro.”

Lack of funding has caused large deficits in the transportation sector and has forced transit companies to implement cutbacks. These cutbacks have largely affected the number of buses that are able to run on a daily basis. If such abatements are put into effect, the metro may have to close at 11 p.m. and buses may only run until 9 p.m.

Nicolas Nadeau-Fredette, media relations and public affairs manager at Trajectoire–a non-profit association that specializes in collective transport for Quebec–confirmed that passenger traffic is at more than 100 per cent in certain areas, and union representatives and transport workers fear that this will encourage the public to take their cars.

According to Nadeau-Fredette, union workers are asking for investments in operational services, which would allow for more bus drivers to alleviate these high traffic rates in certain areas. Though he says that the minister is refusing to invest more sums of money until commuter traffic returns to its pre COVID-19 overcrowding rates.

As negotiations continued, the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) government agreed to pay 70 per cent of the deficit, a 50 per cent increase to what they initially agreed to pay. Ultimately, they changed the way to calculate the deficit, which resulted in the potential reimbursement of a smaller amount. This led to contention amongst union groups and transport employees and led to their decision to demonstrate.

“Quebec municipalities responded by saying they agree that the government should pay 70 per cent but to calculate from the right numbers,” Nadeau-Fredette said.

Union representatives are asking the government to honour the promises made by former Minister of Transport, François Bonnardel in 2021. They also want the government’s honesty and transparency in their calculation methods for the 70 per cent deficit debt that they promised to pay off.

“Adequate funding ultimately saves households money, since transportation is the second-largest budget item for Quebec families, who are already hit hard by the cost of living,” said the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), Marc Gingras.

The Syndicat canadien de la fonction publique and the CSN are calling on Premier François Legault and Minister Guilbault to make the right choice for the future of Quebec as well as future generations by investing the essential amounts of money into transport services. 

Public transit workers say they will continue to plan demonstrations if the government fails to heed their calls and that a future strike is not out of the question.