West Island Winter Transit Blues

Why Can’t We Have Better Public Transit During the Winter?

Graphic by Alexanda Nackley

In the stormy months of January and February, the lack of bus transportation in the West Island gets ridiculous.

When I was studying at John Abbott College, a few years ago, there was a day where I stood in line for two hours to take a bus home. It was in the middle of the afternoon, when most students had finished their class and were waiting to go home. There was a snowstorm that day and the roads were completely covered and very slippery causing delays in bus arrivals. People were lined up at the terminal as if they were getting ready to enter a line for an Osheaga concert. The lineup was so long that by the time the bus arrived there was only enough space for a quarter of the students. I waited for two other buses to arrive before even stepping foot in one. By that time, my facial hair was covered in icicles, my hands were numb and I looked completely frozen like Jack Torrence at the end of The Shining.

Look, I’m from Beaconsfield, that fact alone indicates that I’m fairly comfortable for a Montreal student. I live at home, in the suburbs, and life is good. 

But the problem with living in the suburbs is that the entire community is built like a never ending parking lot. If you live in a parking lot, you need a car which unfortunately is really expensive in our unstable economy. My only real options to get around are the Société de transport de Montréal buses or the exo train service.

I complain about the West Island’s sub-par commuting because the STM bus network at large has been dealing with systemic issues that have only exacerbated the issues of public transportation in the city of Montreal. This year, the STM has begun a public consultation project to rethink the bus network on the entire island. While the talks have come to a close and the results will be made public in 2023, I’m not hopeful that the core issues of bus transportation will be addressed. I became more skeptical after finding out that the STM  had announced a huge $78 million deficit for 2023, and the need to impose cutbacks on the network such as scrapping its 10-minute maximum wait time for its main bus routes.

The network claims the deficit is caused by a decrease in ridership since the pandemic began and has been struggling to make back its lost income.This isn’t the first year the STM announced budget cuts either. In 2022, they announced a $43 million deficit with reduced service time on the bus network.

Without adequate funding from government bodies, the STM’s situation seems dire. As it stands, it looks like public transit is entering a downward trend where services get worse for Montrealers and we are forced to pay a higher fare to use this lackluster transportation network.

The schedules for public transport are already terrible but they become even more of a pain during the winter. From my place, the buses can mainly transport me to CF Fairview or to Lionel-Groulx metro. If you plan on going anywhere else, you better prepare your trip hours in advance. Small trips from town to town can consume an entire afternoon by bus. For example, a trip from the north end of Beaconsfield all the way across highway 40 in Kirkland can sometimes take over an hour. By car it takes 15 minutes. 

This was the situation before the announcement of budget cutbacks in bus circulation which will only cause more uncertainty. Travel times are likely to get worse if the STM continues on with lackluster funding. The only thing I’m certain of is that users of public transportation in the West Island will be standing and walking out in the cold a lot this winter. Best to invest in thick boots, a big warm coat and a nice pair of gloves.

This article originally appeared in Volume 43, Issue 10, published January 24, 2023.