AMT reform: a chance to rethink the governance of public transit

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Added on 21 January 2012 in Viewpoints

 

Text signed by Michel Leblanc, President and CEO of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal and published in Le Devoir.

January 21, 2012

AMT reform: a chance to rethink the governance of public transit

The changing of the guard at the head of the Agence métropolitaine de transport (AMT) and the Government of Quebec’s willingness to perform an in-depth review of its role and responsibilities is an opportunity not to be missed.

We certainly need a more effective agency, but one that also reflects an essential reality: the Government of Quebec pays for infrastructure, so it must assume full responsibility for the work. And the arm of the Government of Quebec is the AMT.

The AMT is currently an agent corporation headed up by a board of directors made up of elected officials for the territory it serves. It follows that the AMT, which makes crucial decisions about public transit and its alignment with local networks, is subject to the vagaries of local political pressure. This friction can delay decisions, impede its efficiency, and, it will come as no surprise, lead to expensive compromises when it comes time to build major infrastructures.
Furthermore, the AMT currently has the combined mandate of planning public transit throughout the metropolitan area and operating the commuter train network, as well as supervising the deployment of the Train de l’Est. These multiple responsibilities often place the AMT in conflict with metropolitan transportation partners, and its different mandates require distinct areas of expertise that are difficult to reconcile.

This recognition of inefficiency is hardly new. The report entitled A city that lives up to our aspirations, commissioned by the Board of Trade from a group of experts co-chaired by Marcel Côté and Claude Séguin, proposes handing over the responsibility for planning and carrying out public transit infrastructure work to a state corporation in due form reporting to the Minister of Transport. Editorial writer François Cardinal explicitly referred to this in his blog on January 13. 

It is time to act

The chair of the Conseil du trésor of the Government of Quebec, Michelle Courchesne, announced her intention to review the AMT’s governance. We encourage her, along with Minister of Transport Pierre Moreau, to make three major changes to the AMT’s mandates.

First of all, we need to entrust it with planning and implementing major public transit projects. It’s important to remember that for the 2012-2020 period alone, the projects on the table in the metropolitan area represent close to $23 billion. These projects must not be continually subjected to local political dealings.

Next, we need to give the Communauté métropolitaine de Montréal responsibility for operating commuter trains and related duties, such as setting rates and frequency of service. Local elected officials are in the best position to understand transit needs and their citizen’s ability to pay. Eventually, out of the same concern for efficiency, grouping the 14 metropolitan area public transit companies should also be considered.

Finally, the new AMT must be managed by a board of directors made up largely of experts and people with recognized skills in urban transit. The AMT must keep a place for municipal officials to continue to reflect the metropolitan reality, but they must be in the minority.

This reorganization of roles and responsibilities is even more apt given that for the first time the region has adopted a development plan for the territory that will guide planning for the transportation network and structure the evolution of Quebec’s largest city for the next 20 years.