Concordia's Thursday Report

Vol. 28, No.7

December 4, 2003


Talking about transport during Montreal's transit strike

by Tristan Baurick

There was a lot of grumbling about public transportation during last month’s transit strike. At a discussion sponsored by the University of the Streets Café, some stranded travellers exchanged ideas from around the world on how to improve transportation in Montreal.

“Listening to what people are saying about what happens in other cities is encouraging and gives us more to explore,” said Lance Evoy, co-ordinator of Concordia’s Institute in Management and Community Development.

The Institute is behind the University of the Streets Café, a public discussion series held in cafes around town on topics such as the environment, feminism and food.

The transportation discussion at the Maison Verte co-op on Nov. 18 drew nearly 20 people from an array of ages and backgrounds. The atmosphere was casual, with participants relaxing in wicker chairs and sipping organic coffee amid the N.D.G co-op’s crates of goat milk soap and racks of hemp fibre clothes.

People described Copenhagen’s extensive tramway network and the bicycle’s dominance over cars on Amsterdam’s streets. Eventually, the discussion came back to Montreal. Zvi Leve said he’d like to see large downtown parking areas reduced, and more metro and bus stops near popular destinations.

“The parking lot at the Air Canada building [near the Vendôme metro] is a huge dead space and detracts from the area,” he said. He suggested Air Canada reduce the parking area while using incentives to encourage employees to ride the metro and bus.

Evoy, sitting next to Leve, nodded in agreement, and suggested that Air Canada might be receptive to Leve’s suggestion. “We should make presentations in boardrooms.”

Although optimistic about improving transportation, participants said increasing bus and metro service is difficult in a car-oriented culture.

Some in the group targeted auto manufacturers for stifling public transportation. According to Mary France Pinard, General Motors bought up most of the streetcars in the 1930s and demolished them, pushing commuters into automobiles and GM buses. “That’s how all this started,” she said. “It wasn’t bad luck.”

Leve said Sports Utility Vehicle manufacturers have successfully used advertising to foster a car-positive culture.

“They have a brilliant marketing campaign and people bought into it 200 per cent,” he said. “In their commercials, you never see the SUV caught in traffic — it’s always climbing to the top of a mountain.”

As the conversation came to a close, many participants realized they’d be without public transportation for the evening and would have to walk, bike or bum a ride to get home. Pinard said she didn’t mind, adding that any frustration she felt was directed more at the federal government than at Montreal’s transit workers.

“We’re the only country in the G8 that doesn’t federally fund urban transit,” she said. “The workers didn’t plan the underfunded system. Whether they strike or not, the problem is due to a lack of funding. And that’s the way it is with most of our transportation problems. It’s really a lack of money.”

Watch for more public discussions in the University of the Streets Café series, including more on transport, in our Back Page listings.