Highway 13 drivers weren’t the only ones stranded during Montreal’s record-setting blizzard

Gare Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue
Snowy Gare Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, as it looked when I finally arrived on March 15, 2017

What about STM and AMT commuters?

Yesterday there seemed to be a lot of finger pointing at the Quebec government for its abysmal emergency preparedness. I agree that there is no excuse for 300 drivers being stuck overnight on Highway 13  with no help because of the storm.

But I believe the City of Montreal failed many people affected by the storm, especially when it comes to public transportation.

On Tuesday night (March 14)  I attended a University of the Streets Café discussion and because I had no idea the STM buses were having such a hard time on the road, I thought I’d be able to get most of the way home to Vaudreuil-Dorion by bus. I stupidly stuck around after the discussion when it would have been better to take a commuter train. But because I missed the last train of the night, buses were my only affordable option.

When I got to the 211 stop, just down the road from the Lionel-Groulx metro, I joined a very long line of people who were waiting for the bus. It was around 9:30 p.m. and when I got there the folks I spoke with had been waiting for over an hour. There were two buses parked across the way from the stop and an STM inspector’s car was parked in the middle of the roadway but the bus drivers didn’t invite people aboard the buses so they could warm up, nor did the inspector tell people what was happening. I waited an hour with the people I’d met and during that time no one came by to let us know anything, for instance, would the buses eventually be on the road? There were no city councillors or city officials or anyone really bringing people hot beverages or something to keep them warm while they waited outside. The woman I spoke with is a student who had parked her car in Dorval and was worried about receiving a ticket if she didn’t get her car (I hope they didn’t ticket her. She had a very good excuse for not getting to Dorval). The information was murky in terms of the reasons (work on Highway 20? Highway 13 mess? accidents?) but it seemed no one could get anywhere via Highway 20. The man I met lives in Île-Perrot and couldn’t get home. The woman had a possible place to stay in town but the man didn’t know anyone. They were just two of the many people who live in the West Island and beyond who could not get home Tuesday night and no one from the City of Montreal or the STM or the police or anyone official offered them any information or comfort. Technology exists to send text messages on smartphones. There’s not really any excuse in this day and age for neglecting people like this.

This situation shocked me because I thought Montreal was hardcore and good at handling emergencies. It’s not as though we haven’t had bad snowstorms before. We survived an Ice Storm in 1998 and handled that well. On Tuesday I had the impression city officials were asleep at the wheel. Didn’t they know people were stranded across the city? Isn’t there a protocol for such a situation, even if it happens off hours? Could they have arranged with the AMT to put more trains on so that people heading west would at least have a chance of getting home?

When a huge group of buses suddenly arrived at Lionel-Groulx and abruptly parked, the woman and her friend and I decided it was time to go but the man from Île-Perrot stayed. As I headed into the metro, I asked the guy at the ticket booth what was going on and he said 150 buses were out of service (apparently drivers couldn’t make their shifts and many buses got stuck in snow , most likely because they’re not equipped for it. In their story about the buses, CBC reported Montreal buses aren’t equipped with snow tires. What’s puzzling me is this story mentioning the STM tweeting that its buses have winter tires.  It seems the tires mentioned in the story may not be winter tires at all but something called traction tires. If you know anything about this, please write a comment below). I headed to Villa Maria metro, the closest metro to my parents’ house. A large number of people were waiting in vain for the 103 bus. Among the group were many seniors, people who regularly depend on public transportation to get around. I waited with them for a while, maybe half an hour. But when we saw a bus on Monkland struggling to move forward to get to the station but unable to because there was too much snow, I knew I wouldn’t be taking a bus. So I walked to my parents’ house. I wasn’t the only one walking. I followed a family as they made their way along Monkland. I also met women who too were walking along unplowed sidewalks. It was beautiful out and would have been fine were the wind not so icy. It took more than an hour to get to my parents’ house and I got there close to midnight. But I was lucky. I had a place to stay in Montreal. I don’t know that everyone else did. There were no “portes ouvertes” efforts on Twitter or Facebook to help stranded people out, there was just nothing in terms of emergency preparedness.

Food for thought?

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Highway 13 drivers weren’t the only ones stranded during Montreal’s record-setting blizzard

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