Over a six-year period between 2012 and 2017, the Société de transport de Montréal routinely removed "buses from busy routes serving socially-vulnerable, lower-income populations and placed them on routes for higher-income populations," according to a study conducted by Nick Chaloux, a McGill master's student.
The report analyzes delays on bus routes with the average income of affected areas and found that across the board, the most service interruptions happen in low-income areas. Simultaneously, high-income areas saw an increase in bus service during delays.
Some of the most popular bus routes were scrutinized under this study, losing riders at an alarming rate compared to others. Chaloux's study doesn't indicate why the STM would do this but it does ask Montreal's transport authority to better consider equity in bus services.
TL;DR A new study shows that the STM reduced bus service frequency in low-income areas in Montreal whilst also increasing availability in high-income neighbourhoods during roadwork delays. Whether this was intentional or not is unclear, but it is clear that this a bad look for the city's public transit authority.
According to the Montreal Gazette, the STM would not comment on the findings but did question Chaloux's methodology. A lot of the information, however, came from public record data sourced from the STM website and data archives. Though, Montreal's transport authority did comment that they don't take income into account when planning their route delays.
Interestingly enough, the most service delays over this six-year period happened in low-income areas in Montréal-Nord, Côte-des-Neiges and LaSalle. On average, the areas that benefitted the most from an influx of buses had a median income over $7000 higher than those neighbourhoods.
It's notable that the STM frequently adjusts its service routes in more car-heavy areas like the West Island to encourage more riders, but many people still use their cars despite having better bus access. Because of endless construction work on the Turcot and surrounding areas, this is a commendable effort but this also means that the most vulnerable populations in Montreal are left behind.
As high-income earners aren't more inclined to take a bus, poor populations in Montreal struggle to get decent bus service during roadwork delays because the STM purposefully re-routes a large amount of its bus fleet to service high-income areas. If it seems like the STM is ignoring its most frequent riders, this is because they are.
Bus ridership over this six-year period experienced a 13% decline which far outnumbers the amounts of new users. Creating new routes for high-income neighbourhoods also seems ineffective as ridership remains stagnant in these areas.
The most service delays were along the 10-minutes max network, on which 31 routes in the city rely. Travel times for these demographically lower-income neighbourhoods such as Ville St. Laurent and Rosemont saw huge increases and buses were less frequent. In fact, 9 out of the 10 most used bus lines in Montreal have a drastically shrinking ridership.
While traffic and construction delays are easy to blame, the STM has still not factored in potential traffic or roadwork delays into their scheduling.
Keep in mind that this is a study and doesn't reflect the actual policies of the STM. The goal of Chaloux's research was not to drag the STM through the mud, but instead to expose troubling trends.
Whether the STM analyses the data and adjusts their policies is up to them, but let's hope they appreciate that leaving their most reliable bus users out in the cold during roadwork delays is no way to gain our trust.