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Montreal transit authority to cut 230 jobs in effort to slash spending without affecting service

The STM manages public transportation such as bus and Metro service on the island of Montreal. It has yet to see ridership return to pre-pandemic levels. (CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The STM manages public transportation such as bus and Metro service on the island of Montreal. It has yet to see ridership return to pre-pandemic levels. (CBC/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Montreal's transit authority is cutting 230 jobs while assuring the public that its bus and Metro services will not be affected.

In a news release, the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) is cutting costs in its 2024 operating budget due to a shortfall. It's reducing employee payroll and spending on goods and services to free up $36 million out of the expected $46 million deficit.

The STM is reducing its payroll by $25 million, specifically targeting positions that aren't directly related to STM service delivery. That accounts for four per cent of the STM's total payroll.

There will also be a $9-million reduction in goods and services expenditures,which is two per cent of the budget. And there will be a $2-million adjustment to the special operating budget for certain projects.

In the release, the STM says it has already saved more than $50 million for its 2024 budget by reviewing the organization's structure, integrating a cost-cutting plan and optimizing services.

"It's always hard for an organization to make these kinds of decisions," said STM CEO Marie-Claude Léonard in the release.

"It's not something we do lightly, but it is necessary to maintain our service offer and continue to be there for our customers, everywhere they need us."

In a news conference Thursday, Léonard said the cuts do not target bus and Metro driver positions. Rather, it is executives and employees in the administrative sector who will be affected. Léonard also specified that 70 per cent of the eliminated positions were already vacant.

In 2022, the STM had made cuts of $27 million to its budget. By 2023, budget cuts had reached $52 million.

Léonard did not hide her concern about the future of the STM.

"It is certain that we fear for the service offering for 2025," she said. "It is certain that no matter how hard we turn over all the stones to find cost reductions, there is a limit to what a transportation company can do."

But the STM is committed to generating $100 million in recurring expenditure reductions over the next five years without affecting the level of service to customers, the release said.

"Of course, we won't be able to keep making these kinds of budget cuts every year," said Léonard.

"The STM can't solve the whole issue of how we fund public transit on its own. We need to be able to count on predictable sources of revenue over the long term so that we can better plan our service offering and our needs with regards to network modernization."

These cuts were expected. The STM announced in December that it would need to trim its budget by $85.6 million in 2024.

The STM has blamed its financial struggles on inflation, staff salary increases and a reduction in the use of public transit on the island of Montreal. Ridership in 2023 was still well below pre-pandemic levels.

The region's public transit agency had previously projected having to close the Metro at 11 p.m., stop intercity buses at 9 p.m. and cut lines from the public transit network if Quebec didn't cover its deficit.

The province then said it would cover 70 per cent of public transit deficits ($265 million), with about $238 million going to the greater Montreal area.

Quebec's initial offer was to cover 20 per cent, sparking pushback from municipal leaders across the province who were asking for $300 million, saying the money was needed to avoid a reduction in services on bus and Metro lines.