The STM has launched a so-called pilot project to determine if Montreal’s bus fleet should be equipped with air conditioning. There has been quite a bit of local media attention given to the story. Last year, opposition Projet Montreal made a big deal about air conditioning our public transportation system, particularly since new Metro cars were about to be ordered. Keep in mind, Projet Montreal is the “Green” party at City Hall.
The baffling thing about this pilot project is the survey that is being issued to some people lucky enough to catch one of the dozen or so climate controlled buses presently roaming the streets of Montreal. Two of the questions in particular should send out alarm bells to those who believe the STM should enter the 21st century.
One of the things being asked is whether users would be willing to pay more for having air conditioned buses. Since when does the STM or any public agency care about whether or not people are willing to pay more for anything? They always go ahead and raise prices regardless of public opinion. Nobody asked Montrealers whether or not they were willing to pay to subsidize Bixi, which in actuality is used by a miniscule portion of the population compared to those who use public transit.
The STM claims it would cost $20 million to air condition the fleet, but that is a very misleading figure. There is no way the STM has any intention of retrofitting existing buses with air conditioning systems. The decision would apply to new bus orders. It costs around $15,000 more for a bus out of the factory with A/C. I don’t know how many new buses are ordered annually, but I doubt the extra cost of A/C would amount to $20 million. Fuel costs are another matter. But think about it, using the same logic, it would cost far less in fuel costs if they were to stop heating buses in the winter, would it not? But you don’t see them asking users whether or not they are willing to pay extra for heating, do you?
Which brings us to another idiotic question being asked. That is whether users would be willing to accept an increase to the STM’s carbon footprint. Let’s put all ideology aside and continue to stick to facts: Canada as a whole contributes 2% of all the world’s carbon emissions. The combined emissions of Montreal buses with air conditioning would not even register. To think that they would seriously be basing a decision on this factor is mind-boggling. Furthermore, are we supposed to be that more self-righteous than just about every other major North American city that we are willing to give up the “luxury” of air conditioned public transit because we are so more concerned about the planet than everyone else? What a pile of nonsense! They don’t use that logic in Ottawa, Toronto or New York, do they?
Last year the STM went ahead and ordered the new Montreal Metro cars without air conditioning. The people in charge were emphatic that it just couldn’t be done, for all sorts of reasons. Of course, it can in other cities… It is no secret that the Metro is at times unbearably hot and uncomfortable, not matter the time of year. Go down to the subways in New York or Toronto. For the most part, the stations look like crap, but the minute you enter the train, you notice the difference immediately - you can actually breathe! The STM claims the new metro cars will have powerful ventilation systems and that A/C will not be needed. We shall see. Don’t hold your breath. You may not be aware of the fact that the conductor’s cabins are air-conditioned. They are because early on when the Metro first opened, a conductor lost consciousness from the heat.
Here’s the point, the STM loves to tell everyone how great it is. Fact is, the reasons ridership has increased in recent years has NOTHING to do with anything the STM has done. It is because of a combination of high gas prices and the way motorists in Montreal are now being treated like quasi-criminals. Parking has become such a nightmare that most rational thinking people will never take their cars downtown. Of course those who can afford to will continue to travel by car. It is those with shrinking budgets who are forced onto public transit. Concern about the planet or satisfaction with the system have nothing to do with their decisions. Ask most people whether they enjoy their time packed onto an A/C-less bus during rush hour during a heat wave, and you’ll get a pretty unanimous no.
If the STM really cared about public opinion, they would not have filled their fleet with low-floor buses people have almost unanimously hated from the day they began roaming Montreal streets. This A/C pilot project will have one of two possible results: 1) New buses will be ordered with air conditioning as of next year and fares will increase with that as the supposed reasoning. 2) The STM will claim self-righteousness or poverty and tell us that unlike most of the continent, Montreal just can’t handle such a profound luxury. Either way, I believe the decision has already been made and this is simply a PR exercise.