Public transit to be free for seniors in Montreal, city announces

People aged 65 and over will benefit from the measure, which is slated to take effect in July 2023, according to Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante.

Measure was one of Mayor Valérie Plante's election promises

Mayor Valérie Plante promised free transit for seniors during the 2021 mayoral race. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Public transit in Montreal will soon be free for people age 65 and over.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante made the announcement on Twitter on Wednesday. The measure is expected to be included in the city's 2023 budget, set to be released next week.

"As of July 2023, public transit will be free for those age 65+ in Montreal," Plante wrote, adding that the measure will allow seniors to "fully participate in society and in the ecological transition."

"And it's a good way to fight inflation," Plante's tweet read. 

Making public transit free for seniors was one of Plante's 2021 election promises.

Plante's priorities as mayor have always included better funding for public transit and lower fares for certain groups. She has pledged to cut fares in half for people aged 12 to 17. 

Offering free rides to seniors is expected to cost the city $40 million a year, according to Eric Alan Caldwell, a city councillor and chair of the board of directors of the Société de transport de Montréal (STM). 

"With the pandemic, it was hard. A lot of seniors didn't get around so much," he said, "and with inflation, seniors have fixed incomes and their expenses are increasing and … often seniors have mobility issues.

"They won't have to stress about transit fees."

Caldwell said 13 per cent of the STM's riders are seniors. 

But he said there were no current plans to offer free transit to other demographics because of costs. The STM ended 2021 with a $43-million deficit and had to cut some services to save money. 

"With the state of public funding for transit, there's no next step yet," Caldwell said. 

Jean Lalande, co-ordinator at the Welfare Rights Committee of South-West Montreal — which is part of Mouvement pour un transport public abordable, a coalition of groups advocating for more affordable public transportation — said he has mixed feelings about the announcement.

"It's good news for a lot of people that we know and love and if it could be free for everyone, even better," he said, "but at the very least do something about people on low income. So far we've seen nothing at all, only words."

Lalande said free transit will come as welcome news for many seniors, and he noted that the Plante administration had already lowered fares for other demographics, including students over 25.

"We're delighted that the situation is improving for many people," he said. "In the meantime, people with low income are being systematically ignored."

"Even dogs get to ride the public transit on a pilot project," Lalande said, "but we don't get so much as a pilot project for people on low income who are prevented from doing such basic things as going to the food bank or visiting their father in the hospital."

Meredith Alousi-Jones, a PhD student in urban planning at McGill University whose research focuses on seniors in public transit, described the measure as "fantastic."

"I think that public transit is really an essential service," she said. "To provide the service for free for a proportion of the population that is underserved, that's a minority, is a great thing."

Good, accessible public transit is a critical part of making sure that urban spaces respond to the needs of seniors, Alousi-Jones said. Public transit can help seniors retain their independence as they age and even keep them out of their cars and, by extension, contribute to a reduction in road accidents.

Alousi-Jones said the free fares will benefit seniors who already take public transit and it may get more of them to choose the Metro or bus over driving. "It's definitely a step in the right direction," she said.

With files from John Ngala