STL’s 2021 budget is just 0.5 per cent higher than last year

The Société de transport de Laval (STL) will be operating on a $171.3-million budget in 2021, the City of Laval announced on Wednesday.

In a statement, the city said that, in light of the pandemic, the STL adhered to a rigorous budgetary process in compliance with the funding conditions decreed by the government of Quebec.

As a result, according to the city, the STL’s budget management efforts will make it possible to provide transit users with a level of service in 2021 comparable to 2019 during peak hours, plus improved service outside of those hours.

When costs of rolling out the REM work mitigation measures and expenditures attributable to Covid-19 are excluded, the 2021 STL budget has grown by just 0.5 per cent, the STL said.

Since March 13, ridership on STL buses dropped drastically compared to 2019, hitting its lowest point in April: 14 per cent for regular bus service, and 11 per cent for paratransit service.

However, to date STL ridership stands at around 42 per cent compared to last year.

In addition to causing revenues to drop, the pandemic also prompted a host of constraints and adjustments to vehicles, terminals and workplaces required to comply with the rules and directives issued by the province’s public health authority and the CNESST provincial board overseeing labour standards, pay equity, and workplace health and safety.

This resulted in the STL spending $3.2 million in 2020, $2.3 million of which were covered by funding programs, on various Covid-19-related measures. For 2021, the STL has earmarked $2.8 million for such measures, of which $2.5 million will be absorbed by aid programs.

Despite the difficulties encountered in 2020, the STL says public transit continues to play a central role in efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while meeting the mobility needs of the region.

The transit agency says its 10-year capital plan, which focuses on development and innovation, is in line with the City of Laval’s vision for growing public transit in Laval.

The projected expansion and conversion of the STL’s operations centre is the focal point of the plan, whose budget is $812.6 million for the next 10 years.

“Our capital plan is a major component of our push to electrify our bus fleet, as it will equip the STL with a modern garage that will render operating an electric bus fleet possible,” said STL president Éric Morasse.

“And of course, part of this initiative will be the first 10 electric buses that we will be integrating into our service in the coming months.”

“Given the circumstances, I am convinced that our budget management efforts satisfy both the ability to offer commuters a level of service that meets their needs and the obligation to budget responsibly,” added STL general manager Guy Picard.

“It is imperative that we avoid falling into the trap of reducing service, if we want to provide users with a safe environment and restore ridership. Also, in response to commuter requests, the STL will be upping its frequency on certain routes during peak hours.”

Some 2021 STL Budget Highlights

  • The STL is projecting an increase in regular bus trips in 2021, to roughly 80 per cent of 2019 ridership levels;
  • By December 2021, STL paratransit trips are expected to reach 95 per cent of the volume anticipated in 2020, or 391,061 trips. That is a 29 per cent drop compared to the 2020 Budget;
  • The STL is forecasting a 2.5 per cent increase in kilometres travelled for 2021 compared to 2019, for a total of 18.2 million kilometres;
  • As per the public transit emergency aid program put in place by the government of Québec, the ARTM will be injecting over $2.5 million to offset additional expenses incurred for health and safety reasons;
  • Nearly $2.8 million are being added to the 2021 budget for Covid-related costs: cleaning of rolling stock, housekeeping/maintenance, security, etc. These extra costs are directly attributable to the pandemic;
  • $0.7 million are earmarked in the 2021 budget for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and by extension, contributing to improving quality of life for the population;
  • Alongside the acquisition of the 10 electric buses to be delivered within the coming six months, the STL will also acquire the necessary charging infrastructure and stations. A total of $4.9 million has been budgeted, including $1.3 million for 2021-2022;
  • Mitigation measures aimed at improving service during the REM construction work will cost $8.8 million in 2021, up $4.4 million compared to the 2020 budget;
  • Preliminary work will continue on the garage expansion project, expected to be completed by 2024;
  • The STL will be proceeding with its onboard credit card payment initiative. The rights of use having been finalized in 2020 for a contactless payment solution, all buses should be outfitted with the new system in 2021.