It's official: Montrealers are not taking the bus anymore. This piece of information doesn't come from a gut feeling or my anecdotal observation, it comes straight from the STM themselves.
According to a source, bus ridership has declined by more than 13% in the past 5-years.
When I came across this new piece of data, I must admit, I was surprised. There is a disconnect between my everyday experience as an STM user and these statistical insights.
Often times when I'm waiting to hop on the bus that takes me to the Metro every morning, the bus is overflowing with people, so I end up walking to the Metro in order to AVOID being sardined with swarms of disgruntled commuters.
The sheer amount of people on the bus may give the impression that people are still taking the bus, however, buses that are consistently overpacked with commuters should be seen as a symptom of an inefficient bus system, rather than a sign of an effective one.
That said, the STM is well aware that bus ridership is declining, this is not new information to them. And as a result, in recent months, the STM has attempted to roll out improvements to incentivize people to hop on.
Here's a look at a few of the improvements the STM has delivered and are also currently working on.
First, back in 2009, the STM proudly introduced articulated buses, what I like to call "accordion buses to motivate people to favor the bus over Metro.
Another example, a project that took forever, but the STM finally implemented real-time bus schedules in Metro stations.
Recently, the STM announced a plan to potentially test an "all-in-one" Opus pass that would allow you to take multiple forms of transport including Bixi and Taxi.
Lastly, the STM also is also testing out new payment terminals that will allow citizens to pay for the bus with a credit or debit card.
Despite all these wonderful improvements and future projects in the pipeline people are STILL favoring the metro, train, communal bikes, and car over jumping on the bus.
The big question remains - why?
A couple of theories are floating around out there. The first and most obvious is that construction is affecting people's motivation to ride the bus.
The second and a more invisible factor is that a high number of buses are taken out for repair. Who knew?
Even the most popular bus lines in Montreal have lost ridership over the past years. 9 of the 10 most used bus lines have seen a stark decrease in riders.
The good news is that in consequence the STM has seen an increase in Metro ridership. This is likely due to the new Azure metro cars, which are way more spacious and comfortable than the ancient ones we used to have.
However, the fact that people are taking the Metro more still doesn't solve the issue of shrinking bus ridership. The bus is the foundation of an effective transit system, and if ridership is dissipating, it can potentially affect the entire transit system as a whole.
In the end, the STM is working to address this issue and will be injecting a great deal of funding and resources into reviving the bus system. By 2020 they hope to have 300 new hybrid buses out and operating on the streets.
So - although the overall news is discouraging - especially if you rely solely on the bus to get to work and back - we hope that the STM will follow through on their promises to improve and upgrade the bus system over the next years.