Will the light rail really save time for South Shore commuters?

The proposed light rail system that may connect the South Shore to downtown Montreal to the airport, is promising to significantly reduce travel time for South Shore residents. But will it for all commuters?

Bus and Metro transfers could cancel out time-savings promised by the Caisse's electric trains

The proposed light-trail transit system (LRT) would connect the South Shore to downtown Montreal, the airport, and the West Island. (Radio-Canada)

The proposed light rail system that would connect the South Shore to downtown Montreal is promising to significantly reduce travel time for South Shore residents. But will it for all commuters?

The LRT project, called REM in French, features three stations on the South Shore connecting to Central Station in downtown Montreal and beyond. It would replace 46 buses that cross the Champlain Bridge every day.

Commuters who live around highways 10 and 30 would gain about 10 minutes with the train, according to documents from CDPQ Infra, a subsidiary of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Quebec that is spearheading the project.

But to accurately assess the potential gains, one must also consider the time to get to the train stations and to reach the final destination once off the train.

Connections between buses and the LRT

More than 22,000 people cross the Champlain Bridge every morning towards the downtown bus terminal. Residents of more far-flung towns, like Ste-Julie and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, who take a single bus into the city, will have to transfer from bus to train in the new system.

The LRT would replace 46 bus lines that take South Shore residents straight into downtown Montreal. (Radio-Canada)

According to a 2013 study by firm AECOM, 75 per cent of users would have to make one extra transfer. For commuters from Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, for example, there would be no time saved.

"In the end, it will be the same," said Luc Côté, director of transportation for Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

"Basically, we calculate 20 to 23 minutes from St-Jean to the LRT station and 15 minutes to get downtown. We'd arrive at the same time, but the service will be more reliable."

Cities fear congestion

The LRT promises to be faster and more reliable since it would be unaffected by weather, congestion and traffic lights. But the buses that feed the train wouldn't.

Several municipalities in the eastern South Shore are worried about an increase in road congestion, especially on Highway 30.

"We cannot think that this infrastructure will be profitable if a portion of the population can't access it easily," wrote Ste-Julie mayor Suzanne Roy in a letter to the Quebec Department of Transportation in June.

"People will choose other modes of transport – they will consider driving a car, there will be more congestion and, despite these major investments, we won't be more efficient," she warned.

Connected to the Metro?

The majority of commuters who arrive at the downtown bus terminal then walk to work. But a third of them transfer to the Bonaventure Metro station on the Orange line.

Currently, passengers have direct access to the Metro, as the bus station is located above it. With the LRT, they will have to walk from the train station to the metro.

LRT passengers who want to transfer to the metro would have a long walk between the train station and Bonaventure station. (Radio-Canada)

This trip will be the same for all users who want to transfer between the LRT and the Metro, whether they are South Shore residents, tourists from the airport or residents of Deux-Montagnes.

Watch Radio-Canada's Julie Marceau walk between train and metro stations:

When asked about this, CDPQ Infra says it has a solution to speed up this transit, but this requires walking from Central Station to Place Bonaventure, then to Bonaventure Metro.

"In the case of Central Station, there are several real estate owners, with whom we must work to find solutions, precisely to facilitate access to the station. This work is ongoing," said Macky Tall, President and CEO of Infra CDPQ.

The public will have the opportunity to ask questions about the project during public hearings led by BAPE, which start this week.

Based on a report by Radio-Canada's Julie Marceau