Montreal

Returning to office part time? A look at your best options for commuting to work in Montreal

A monthly pass really only starts to make sense when you're hopping on the bus, train or Metro at least three days per week, says a spokesperson for the Montreal region's transit authority, ARTM. But there are affordable, single-zone options on the horizon.

Monthly pass might not make sense, but Montreal-area public transit has affordable options, says ARTM

Nearly a third of Montreal workers don't trust sanitary measures in public transit where ridership is down 15 per cent, but the local transit authority says it's still the best option. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Alexandra Muer is a student who works part time, making commuting by public transit in Montreal a necessary but expensive way to get around town.

She said the train is particularly costly, so she sticks to buying a bus and Metro pass to save money.

She was excited to learn last week that a single fare of $3.50 will soon be enough to ride every mode of public transit within a single zone, such as the island of Montreal, whether it be the Metro, bus, train or, soon, the Réseau Express Métropolitain (REM) light rail network.

"It's going to make everything so much easier," said Muer. "It's going to be way more affordable, so a lot more people are going to be able to have the luxury of taking the train and the REM."

While people like Muer have continued to regularly use public transportation, what about those whose workplaces have switched to a hybrid model, as the pandemic wanes? A lot of those employees only head into the office a couple days a week. The rest of the time, they work from home.

A monthly pass really only starts to make sense when you're hopping on the bus, train or Metro at least three days per week, said Simon Charbonneau, spokesperson for the Montreal region's transit authority, ARTM.

But that doesn't mean people going to work two times per week have to rely on a car instead, he said. There are, for example, 10-ticket bundles that people can buy with the new transit fare system which kicks off in July.

Each ticket, its price reduced when bought in a bundle, is good for a two-hour commute and can get riders from Laval to Longueuil and everywhere in between, he said. The price varies depending on where a user begins their commute.

Public transit is best, ARTM says

As far as Charbonneau is concerned, relying on public transportation remains the best option, even for those living on the outskirts of the city who head to the office two or three times per week.

The price is right, he said, but it also saves time, as road congestion gets increasingly worse. Nowadays, traffic is more unpredictable, with no set rush hour, he said.

Instead, traffic is backing up randomly, he said.

"With traffic right now, normally it would be in the morning and the afternoon; now it is all over the place, at all hours," said Charbonneau.

Alexandra Muer uses public transit to get around Montreal all the time, making a monthly pass worth the cost. (CBC)

One study found that in 2017 and 2018, drivers lost an average of 145 hours per year in Montreal traffic, he said. In the years since, partly due to the pandemic, vehicle purchases have shot up. Light truck use went up 5.8 per cent in 2020, while public transit ridership since the arrival of COVID-19 has dropped by some 15 per cent, he said.

While public transit agencies are taking a financial hit, he said, riders are finding it's not as crowded on the bus or Metro anymore, making for a more comfortable commute.

Meanwhile, more express bus lanes have opened, and the REM is scheduled to start operations this fall, providing more, faster options to public transit users, said Charbonneau.

How you commute is personal choice, CAA-Québec says

Nicolas Ryan, a spokesperson for CAA-Québec, said choosing between driving, biking or riding public transit comes down to a personal choice.

Driving a gas-powered vehicle is the most expensive but usually fastest way to travel, he said. It allows, for example, a parent to drop off a child at daycare on the way to work, however, an accident mid-commute could derail the whole day.

The cheapest option is biking or walking, but that's likely the longest, time-wise, he said.

Taking the bus might allow for a rider to read the paper on the go, but someone worried about COVID-19 might not want to be so close to strangers, he said.

According to a recent study funded by the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal, more than half of downtown workers have confidence in the public transit system's sanitary measures, but 29 per cent have absolutely no confidence.

Rising gas prices is forcing people to rethink their options, Ryan said. Electric vehicles can be a game changer, but they're not affordable for everyone.

"Working from home can surely reduce the cost of travelling," he said. "Deciding to use active mobility a bit more often will likely have the same result and provide healthier results for you."

Ryan predicts most people will alternate between all modes of transportation.

"CAA-Québec doesn't believe there is only one good answer," Ryan said. "They all have their pros and cons based on the situation of that person on that given day."

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