December 18 2013

Taking the Bus in Quebec City, Canada: From Wishful Thinking to Action

A bus stop at night.

Attitudes toward urban lifestyles are rather hostile in Quebec City. Our mayor proved this point when exiting a recent electoral debate organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Quebec. The slip up: “I’m not sure that you could find 100 people who would dream of taking the bus.” In other words, who would be able to stand the smell of others, complete discomfort, several stops, and waiting outside in the rain… and all of this by choice? Or, would someone who does not take the bus be ready to do so?

This is something we often hear from people who have never known any other means of transportation aside from a car. Nevertheless, these remarks are unsettling when they come from an important figure in the public administration. It should be noted that the administration finances this system, whose supposed flaws have recently been brought to light. Making this declaration during election time ought to have steered future officials to do more in order to promote our public transportation network, and even making it a more attractive option, not the opposite.

Moreover, that’s what thousands of people have done through petitioning in order to make their presence known. Ordinary people who would like to go from point A to point B in comfort, quickly, without having to use their own vehicle. This petition was definitely signed by fans of public transportation, people who make the voluntary choice to not have a car, and also by those who think that the system responds to their specific needs. And this is where the mayor was mistaken. Finding 100 people who dream about it seems rather easy, but finding just as many people who do it is different. What’s more, faced with the success of the petition, the mayor said “I understand that they dream of having a better public transportation system. But I still don’t think that there are thousands of people who want to abandon their cars to take the bus.”

A bus in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

Until now, the people of Quebec City are proving him right. Aside from some urban dwellers dedicated to the cause, who takes the bus solely by choice? Who is ready to make the transition from dreaming about it to doing something in reality? For the majority of people, public transportation will always be a constraint, or a choice made by necessity. It will be that way until our societies move towards more ecological values that are less individualistic and materialistic.

It is considered constraining because it requires more time for the numerous paths and stops, and more flexibility in regards to time. Committing to public transportation also requires subsequent lifestyle choices such as reducing the radius of daily activities and living in more densely populated neighborhoods.

It is a necessity due to the cost of owning an automobile, the limits of our road network, and the tendency for people to build urban areas where wealth is concentrated. Through acting on these limiting factors, several cities have succeeded in overturning attitudes towards public transportation. Quebec City refuses to consider this option.

For those who are currently trying to pressure the city into investing in public transportation, I have this to say: Signing a petition will never carry the same weight as purchasing a monthly pass. You just have to make the effort.

How can public transportation be made more appealing? Are arguments about sustainability convincing enough to change attitudes about using public transportation?

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Marcus Khoury

Marcus Khoury is a recent graduate of the University of California Los Angeles, where he obtained a B.A. in French & Francophone Studies. Aside from his native Michigan, Marcus has lived in several states, in addition to France and Chile. Owing to his experiences with a variety of cultures, languages, and environments, he has always been keenly interested in how the exchange of ideas between different cities, regions, and countries helps to shape both physical and cultural landscapes. His linguistic background, in addition to his interest in the diversity of international urban environments and experiences, has led Marcus to fill the position of French Language Translator at The Grid, where he will be translating and presenting French language material involving environmental design.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 18th, 2013 at 9:55 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environment, Government/Politics, Marcus Khoury, Social/Demographics, Transportation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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2 Responses to “Taking the Bus in Quebec City, Canada: From Wishful Thinking to Action”

  1. Bruno Says:

    “Until now, the people of Quebec City are proving him right. Aside from some urban dwellers dedicated to the cause, who takes the bus solely by choice?”

    More than the author seems to suggest. Looking at the numbers and how Québec City has come a long way since the early 2000s is also crucial in understanding public transit in the city. In 2011, 45 million transits were recorded, a 12.4% increase over five years. In 2012, a record-breaking ridership of 46.7 million transits were recorded, which is a 3.8% increase from the previous year (2007: 41.3 million transits). In the last five years, ridership has increased steadily on average by 2.5%. The yearly AbonneBus subscription program for both students and workers grew by 7% in students and 11.7% in workers in 2012 – two groups of riders clearly making a choice in favour of transit. Such increases cannot simply be the result of some “urban dwellers” dedicated to the cause.

    More details in the 2012 operational report: http://www.rtcquebec.ca/Portals/0/Pages/%C3%80%20propos%20du%20RTC/Publications/Doc/Rapport%20d'activit%C3%A9%202012.pdf

    I would say most riders in Québec City actually make the choice to use public transit over taking their car out of the driveway every morning. Why? Because as the original author pointed out, Québec City remains by and large an extremely car-friendly city criss-crossed by highways. But traffic is getting worse and bus transit becoming more attractive. The Xpress and especially the Metrobus routes (the latter being by far the busiest and most overcrowded routes in the city) cater well to workers and students alike. More and more reserved bus lanes are popping up and technology is slowly making its way into the RTC’s bus system to make it more user-friendly and efficient (a real-time positioning system is due next year or the next).

    In the city’s core and densely-populated boroughs (contrarily to popular belief, the city isn’t exclusively made out of suburbs), car usage is either useless or mostly necessary at night or on weekends. People take the bus most of the time, by choice. If you ride the busy routes at rush hour, you’ll see all kinds of people – business people in suits, students, civil servants, young and older workers, elderly people, etc. Not just “some city dwellers dedicated to the cause” or people who can’t afford a car.

    “Through acting on these limiting factors, several cities have succeeded in overturning attitudes towards public transportation. Quebec City refuses to consider this option.”

    Again, I think the author is underestimating the efforts being made by the city and the RTC in the last 10 years, despite the mayor’s slip-ups made in times of electoral fever. You had to live in Québec City a decade ago (or less) to notice the changes and recognize the challenges that the city is facing, both physically and socially. Yes, anti-transit sentiment is strong since the city has been built for and around the car for the last 60 years or so, but the tide is changing, slowly but surely.

    The author should also not overestimate the state of things in more urban and seemingly transit-oriented centres, like Montreal, where many residents living in core areas either still own a car and use it daily or dream of getting one.

    The rest of the post is right on the mark.

  2. free transit Says:

    Simple solution? Make buses fare-free. Think that is expensive? It actually saves money. Cities spend a lot of money making life easy for cars. Those expenses can be cut as more people ride the bus.

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