We’re Not Clients and Our Transit System Isn’t a Store

Montreal-Metro-Rush_Hour-01

Dear clients, your attention please,” the announcement (in French) rang out with a sense of self-importance and urgency across the platform, “we are currently testing the announcement system.” Fair enough, I guess, though a little amusing in how it was so anti-climactic. Then it hit me: the voice had just called us clients.

We weren’t in a store. We were waiting for a train in a Montreal metro station, part of a public transportaion network spanning the island. The operative word being public. Yes, I did pay my fare to ride, as did everyone else on the platform (in theory), but that doesn’t make me a customer.

Call me passenger, traveller, transit system user, citizen even, just please don’t call me a client. I’m not. Just like the Société de transport de Montréal (STM) isn’t a business, or at least it shouldn’t see itself as one.

It’s a public utility that does need to charge a fee to function. It also should balance its books, but it should not be run like a for profit corporation.

Unfortunately that’s not how the brass sees it. Just look at how they’re policing the network: with real city cops. Now while the Montreal Police are, presumably, dealing with actual crime in the transit system (as they should), every time I see them, they’re doing something else, namely checking for proof of payment. They stand in lines four or five deep, stopping people entering and leaving the metro. I’ve even seen them board buses to check for that little ticket stub that you’re supposed to keep (whatever happened to faith in the driver, but I digress).

The logic put forth by those behind this scheme, or at least by those tasked with enforcing it, is that (as one cop told a friend of mine) the system loses money to fare jumpers. But how much money are they wasting dedicating resources and paying salaries to prevent those lost revenues? Surely more than they lose. Well, not if you factor in the hefty fines the cops give out to those they catch.

This isn’t about stopping passengers who are trying to avoid paying $3, it’s about generating large amounts of revenue through punishments. It’s not about saving money, it’s about making it from the public and using an actual police force to do it, intimidation tactics and all.

Let’s put this in perspective. Imagine a private business, say a clothing store, using actual cops to protect its business interests. Not fair, right? What makes that business worthy of public, armed security and the flower shop down the street not?

But wait, proponents of the armed cop ticket checkers on the transit system may argue, it is fair because the metro and bus network isn’t some ordinary private business, it’s a public utility and therefore, a public police force is a justifiable organization to use as security.

I’m confused. If they’re arging that it’s a public utility, which it is, then they may be able to justify the use of cops, but they can’t in any way, shape or form, justify using those cops to generate profits from travellers as though they were customers. Nor can they call members of the public who use this public utility clients or customers, as apparently they have started doing.

I realize they’re not the only utility that behaves like this. Hydro, for example, has been treating everyone as customers for years, but that’s a much larger nut to crack and one that people living in a modern urban setting really can’t avoid (well, there is off-grid, but that’s tricky). Public transit isn’t in the same boat.

Some people have cars, some people have bikes, some people have money for taxis and many have use of their feet. There are options. Public transit is an option that should be encouraged and promoted. Many agree with that notion, but not all of them, or more specifically not most of those in power to change things, realize that the way to promote a public utility isn’t through an ad campaign, it’s through making the service accessible to as many as possible and not making people feel like they are entering a profit-driven police state every time they head underground to get around.

Higher transit fares discourage people from riding. Getting rid of the six ticket pack (check it out, it just happened) doesn’t help either. Neither does not accepting monthly or weekly passes or even the two ticket discount when entering the Montreal metro system from off-island. Yes, I know that it involves a deal with one of the two other transit systems, but I think it’s worth it to either negotiate a better deal or else bite the bullet and pay the small expense that makes it possible for people to not have to pay different rates depending on where they enter the metro. Think about it, unified pricing helped strengthen the New York subway and the subway helped build the city.

At the very least, the STM should realize it doesn’t have a monopoly and start acting like a true public utility that works for the benefit of the public. It needs to realize that the citizens who use the service may be many things, but are in no way mere exploitable clients. Then, the statement in the following song would ring true…

10 comments

  • I think calling passengers clients just sounds weird too. It’s rather out of place. I also can’t believe they don’t have monthly passes. That would make things easier for people. The only troublesome thing that could come out of making a system like this free is overuse and overcrowding — unless more money was put into it, I suppose. Good article. Love the style.

    Also, a thank you for using the word “digress” in the article. It’s been on the tip of my tongue for a week.

    • Thanks, one quick correction, we do have monthly passes, they’re just not accepted at Montreal Metro stops in the South Shore and Laval, you have to pay full fare pass or not

  • I dislike the fake police (my name for the STM police)m just as much as the next person, but i disagree with some of your points I don’t mind being called a client, actually I don’t even care. That’s just a poor use of wording perhaps, but in the end, who really cares? There are bigger issues to deal with, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Secondly, the STM offers more ticket fare specials than you make it out to offer. Did you know about the inexpensive pass for evenings? It allows you to use the same pass as many times as you’d like after 5pm, I believe.
    Now, I do agree that increasing prices are not very welcoming for new users, but I can’t complain too much seeing as how the buses have been massively upgraded. I don’t mind paying that extra and contribute to a more comfortable travelling experience.

    • what they need is RELIABLE transportation and much better frequencies of metros and buses, unlike their broken-promise ad campaigns. also, transit fares have more than doubled in the past ten years, and then they get a shakedown force to annoy, blockade, and fine passengers. Everyone’s a criminal until proven otherwise in their eyes. Instead, it’s a seldom time when I’ve used public transportation without some kind of hiccup or shenenigan, or been forced to wait much too long for a slow and overly meandering bus when things are “on schedule.”

      • I do agree with what you are saying – I’ve had my fair share of late buses, or buses arriving on what seems to be at the right time, only to notice that they are “Hors Service”.
        But
        From what I have experienced recently, and I cannot stress “I” enough, is that buses have been better at being on time (in most of my experiences, the metro isn’t so bad, unless some idiot decides to block a door or whatnot). The main point as to what I was trying to say is how I don’t mind being called a client. In the end, I do feel like one, and I don’t care. I am paying for a service after all, and a service is what I am getting, so why not be called a client?
        Furthermore, I just wanted to address what the author of the article had written about the STM fares, all of which can be seen here:
        http://www.stm.info/English/tarification/a-index.htm

    • I think you miss the point. It’s not fake cops, it hasn’t been fake cops for a few years now, it’s the real police and when they ask you for your ticket, it adds an unwelcome level of intimidation. Having a group of cops get on a bus and demand everyone show proof of payment doesn’t make for a pleasant travel experience. Remember when you only had to hold on to a transfer when you needed one?

      Also, I never criticized the fares, only that special passes, regular passes and discounts don’t work at all metro stops, namely those in Laval and the South Shore.

      If the STM wants to encourage more people to use public transit, then these measures are counterproductive to that cause.

    • I think you miss the point. It’s not fake STM cops, it hasn’t been fake cops for a few years now, it’s the real SPVM police and when they ask you for your ticket, it adds an unwelcome level of intimidation. Having a group of cops get on a bus and demand everyone show proof of payment doesn’t make for a pleasant travel experience. Remember when you only had to hold on to a transfer when you needed one?

      Also, I never really criticized the fares, just mentioned that they were higher and that special passes, regular passes and discounts don’t work at all metro stops, namely those in Laval and the South Shore.

      If the STM wants to encourage more people to use public transit, then these measures are counterproductive to that cause.

      • I call them fake police because, well that’s how I see them – that’s all! I know they are real police, but in my mind, I think it’s funny that they are trained for such higher jobs, but get stuck checking bus tickets, hence the term “fake STM police”. I know their fines must be paid, and if you don’t, you may potentially get in more trouble, etc, and I didn’t even disagree with you on the fact that they can be bothersome, but I do see the need for them. Why should I have to pay to use the service, when another gets in for free without penalty?
        And yes, I remember holding on to one transfer when I needed it, and I also distinctively remember keeping the same transfer for a couple of days and using that to board the bus instead of paying the fare (bare in mind, I was in high school at the time and didn’t know any better, and many were doing so as well).
        With such high gas prices for cars, and the use of designated lanes for buses, which usually beat out traffic in some cases, at least in my area, I don’t think the STM will have a huge problem encouraging more people to use public tansportation.

  • The real issue with user fees and the ever growing government contributions is the ELITE class of STM workers that we have created and are now stuck with.

    Every year there is a strike, either the bus drivers, the ticket booth people, the cleaners, the maintenance workers etc..

    With 4 year agreements and more than 4 groups that’s one strike a year if we don’t agree to pay hikes. They feel as they are now entitled to an increase each and every year, and pretty much have us by the balls because of how committed we now are to public transport thanks to our own government.

    60k driving a bus. Soon our bus drivers will be better of than our nurses (those who haven’t moved yet). It’s nice to know where this society gives respect.

  • Thanks for calling out the STM on their scary new police policy. I’d like to point out something I’ve witnessed now *several* times in the last month or so: transit ‘cops’ unjustly targeting people of colour, usually men. Maybe this is because the Montreal cops in general have a problem with racial profiling. Maybe its because 99% of the metro cops seem to be white guys on a power trip. I dunno. But its distressing to see them haul away a young black guy for blocking the metro doors, when right next to him a white guy in a suit and tie was doing the exact same thing. Or chasing a dude down the stairs yelling at him, hands over their guns. His crime? From what I could tell: Wearing headphones and looking righteous. WTF. This racial profiling shit has GOT TO STOP.

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