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Montreal needs to improve public transit accessibility

Commentary/Opinion by

Fifty-two years since the Société de transport de Montréal (STM)—then called the Commission de transport de Montréal—unveiled the Montreal metro, the system still excludes wheelchair users. The STM is a public corporation that runs Montreal’s public bus and metro systems. However, two thirds of commuters in the Greater Montreal community still travel by car. The issue is not that Montrealers are somehow more inclined toward cars—it’s that a lot of Montrealers have no choice, due to public transit’s lack of accessibility.

The STM has some dedicated services for accessibility, such as elevators, ramps, and paratransit, which is door-to-door public transit for handicapped citizens. However, the system falls extremely short from adequately serving the one in 10 Quebecers with a disability. According to the STM website, only 12 out of 68 metro stations are wheelchair-accessible, and they are all on the Orange Line. The remaining three lines—blue, green, and yellow—are completely inaccessible to wheelchair users. The STM plans to have 31 accessible stations by 2022, but that is still only 31 out of 68 stations—meaning that much of Montreal will still be out of reach for wheelchair users. Montreal mayor Valérie Plante’s proposal for an entirely new metro line emphasizes that all 29 new stations will be wheelchair accessible, but that does little for the handicapped Quebecers trying to navigate the STM system today.

Freedom of mobility is a huge element of the right to individual autonomy. By rendering much of the transit system inaccessible to those in wheelchairs and compromising these individuals’ autonomy, STM is violating the rights of people with reduced mobility, making it inherently ableist.

Above ground is not much better. In addition to the lack of elevators to access the metro, many wheelchair users report that the bus ramps are often out of order. Even if the ramps work properly, poor snow removal in the winter leaves them useless if the ramp cannot lie flat. According to official reports by the STM, ramps are supposed to be inspected once a month, but a Montreal Gazette feature on transit accessibility reports maintenance work happening once every four months, or less. Paratransit also proves to be extremely limiting: According to the Gazette, services must be booked a day in advance, leaving wheelchair users without the privilege of making spontaneous or last-minute travel.

By rendering much of the transit system inaccessible to those in wheelchairs and compromising these individuals’ autonomy, STM is violating the rights of people with reduced mobility, making it inherently ableist.

Having to plan every single move or activity days in advance is not a burden that most citizens of Montreal have to deal with. Most Montrealers do not have to think twice whether their local metro stop has an elevator. McGill station currently does not have an elevator, leaving many students with reduced mobility limited choice in lodging, since they cannot rely on the metro. The city has been designed in a way that alienates an entire community of people.

The city of Montreal and the STM must consult and include disabled people and groups in policy creation and design of public space in order to achieve inclusivity. The people who know best how to make the city more accessible are those who it actually need it. The number of accessible metro stations will not be sufficient until all of them are wheelchair-friendly from street level.

Improving accessible transport is a challenge for every modern city, but Montreal can look to other cities for best practices. Washington, D.C. is a leading example: All 91 of the city’s subway stations are fully accessible, as well as all of its buses and rail cars.

From the outdoor staircases that render some apartments unreachable, to the city’s public transit system, Montreal has a long way to go in improving access for those with reduced mobility throughout the city. If Montreal wants to report greater usage of and satisfaction with its public transit, it must thoroughly address issues of accessibility with the pressing priority that they deserve.

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