Mayor and council face questions over ongoing STL labour problems

Responding to 3-1-1 service criticism, Boyer says six new operators hired

The Société de transport de Laval’s ongoing labour dispute and rotating service disruptions were the focus of questions from a concerned resident to Mayor Stéphane Boyer and other elected officials during the first regular public meeting of Laval city council since last month’s municipal elections.

‘Users held hostage’

In an e-mail to the mayor read out during question period at the Dec. 7 meeting, Steve Vézina asked whether the City of Laval has any powers to deal with the pressure tactics currently being used by the unionized STL bus drivers, “because this is completely unacceptable that the users are being held hostage by slowdowns, cancellations and service stoppages,” he said.

Mayor Stéphane Boyer said during the Dec. 7 Laval city council meeting that Laval is doing all it can to resolve the ongoing Société de transport de Laval labour dispute.

While pointing out that many residents of Laval depend on STL bus service to get to work or to appointments, Vézina asked leaders of the opposition as well as the new mayor when the STL could be expected to settle the situation “because we are at wit’s end.”

3-1-1 service criticized

Vézina also complained about the quality of service on the city’s 3-1-1 public works hotline, which suffers from sometimes lengthy delays.

“I am in complete agreement with you that the population should not be held hostage,” said Parti Laval city councillor for Fabreville Claude Larochelle, noting that a few days earlier there was no STL service available at all, while adding that the bus drivers have been without a collective agreement for nearly two years.

Larochelle said he was not in a position to comment on the state of 3-1-1 because the past administration never furnished performance status information on the service to the opposition in spite of their requests.

Depends when you call

Larochelle suggested residents not call during busy hours, such as Monday mornings, but preferably during weekends when the line is far less busy.

Action Laval city councillor for Saint-Bruno David De Cotis, who presided the Société de transport de Laval when he was a member of former mayor Marc Demers’ administration, said he felt confident the STL’s current leadership would eventually reach an agreement with the union.

Mayor Boyer said the STL has been losing immense sums of money since the beginning of the Covid pandemic last year because of lower ridership

As for 3-1-1, De Cotis acknowledged that callers must sometimes wait on the phone from 30 minutes up to an hour for a call to be answered by an operator when the lines are most busy. However, he said the city appears to be heeding advice offered by the opposition last year and the service hopefully will improve under the new administration.

STL losing money, said Boyer

For his part, Mayor Boyer said the STL has been losing immense sums of money since the beginning of the Covid pandemic last year because of lower ridership, although he acknowledged the City of Laval and the Quebec government have been absorbing most of the impact.

“So, when there is talk of improving working conditions and remuneration, the will is there but this would require a particular financial maneuver, and not only in Laval but all over Quebec and elsewhere in the world, so there is this challenge to meet at the moment,” he said. For the time being, he added, negotiations remain underway between STL management and the bus drivers’ union.

More 3-1-1 operators

Regarding 3-1-1, the mayor insisted that most of the time it runs smoothly, although he admitted that the level of service can vary widely depending on the time of year or the day of the week. He said the number of operators on duty can vary and unexpected events such as weather disturbances or power failures can cause the system to become choked with callers.

Members of Laval City Council held their first regular monthly public meeting on Dec. 7 at Laval’s interim city hall on Saint-Martin Blvd.

While maintaining that wait times on Laval’s 3-1-1 service can vary from two minutes up to a half-hour, Mayor Boyer said the city decided recently to hire six more operators. As well, he pledged to begin sharing information and data from the 3-1-1 service with councillors who are members of the opposition.

Polytechnique Massacre

As Dec. 6 was the anniversary of the École Polytechnique Massacre in 1989, a minute of silence was observed at the opening of the meeting and the mayor and several councillors later also made statements.

Boyer noted that the past year saw a significant increase in the number or women murdered in Laval. “It’s a reality which sadly is still among us and that is obviously unacceptable,” he said.

“As a society, we must do everything we can about this problem. In Laval, we have some basic resources to help women who are enduring domestic abuse. We will see what more we can do to support them in the future. We are already supporting them, but we will see what else we can do to go further.”