There is a deep divide between municipal and provincial lawmakers about how the operating deficits of the public transit agencies in greater Montreal should be funded.
City leaders are calling on the Quebec government to absorb 75 per cent of the projected deficits of $532 million next year.
The province is intending to cover a fraction of the amount, between 20 and 25 per cent, arguing that setting transit budgets is not its responsibility.
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“Deficits are the responsibility of municipalities, not the governments,” Geneviève Guilbault, the transport minister, said Friday afternoon.
Guilbault insists the government already financially bailed out the transit agencies during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when ridership and revenues plummeted.
She estimates the number of users has returned to 80 per cent of the pre-pandemic levels.
Guilbault says the government has also invested record amounts of money in transit development projects, such as the extension of the STM’s metro blue line to Anjou.
But the spending has to stop.
”You cannot think that the government has the money to pay for 75 per cent of deficits on which we have absolutely no control. This is not a normal situation,” Guilbault said.
Guilbault says the province doesn’t have any input on the operating budgets of the transit agencies and it’s not up to the government to decide how transit operators should save money.
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Concerns are growing that some cuts to service are imminent if the government doesn’t absorb more of the transit deficits.
”There is no way, no one wants to cut into services. No one should be wanting that. It’s not an option,” Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante told Global News.
More meetings between the transport minister and municipal leaders are planned in the near future.
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