The $100 discount on the SAAQ driver’s license won’t please everyone

Maintaining the driver’s license discount is controversial, while Greater Montreal’s public transportation companies are considering different scenarios, curtail their services due to significant deficits.

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For 2024, a Quebec motorist will only have to pay $25.50 for a driver’s license, which is $101.55 less than the regular price for a Class 5 driver’s license, Transport and Sustainable Mobility Minister Geneviève Guilbeault announced Tuesday.

How to explain such a discount?

The coffers of the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) are overflowing, largely due to a drop in accidents — and thus compensation — since the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a drop in travel.

By setting the price of a driver’s license at $25.50, the SAAQ is depriving itself of $600 million in revenue this pay holiday, the government says.

While many motorists welcome the announcement, others see it as a missed opportunity to use these funds to fund public transport.

“Important announcement from the Quebec Minister of Motorists,” joked Justine McIntyre, a former municipal elected official, in a message posted on X (formerly Twitter).

“A surplus of $600 million… more than half a billion. And then we lack the money to invest in public transport,” lamented Angèle Pineau-Lemieux, spokesperson for Access Viable Transports.

“We continue to derail public transport projects because they are too expensive, while rejoicing in extending and widening freeways and money directly to motorists. And then we wonder why the roads are clogged…,” said climate scientist Chris McCray.

Is “car” culture to blame?

According to Florence Junca-Adenot, a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Tourism Studies at UQAM, car culture has to do with the proliferation of road investment announcements and a perceived reluctance to implement public transport projects.

“It’s because we live in a world of tanks,” says the woman, who is also co-founder of the Quebec Mass Transit Financing Alliance, with a laugh.

“The vision (of the government regarding public transport) is good. We submit projects for many consultations, but when it comes time to move on to implementation, there is no money. On the other hand, we continue to build roads. But if we want to be consistent with environmental issues, we have no choice but to develop tools other than solo driving and rebuild our cities. And that goes by public transport,” he regrets in an interview with 24 hours discuss public transport.

  • Listen to the interview with Minister Geneviève Guibault on the Maria Dumont show via Radio QUB :

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However, this does not mean that we should not build roads, the expert clarifies. He admits that with ever-increasing urban sprawl, car travel is often unavoidable.

The fact that Quebec always invests more in roads than in public transit projects, unlike Ontario, can be at least partially explained by a lack of urban densification, according to Fanny Tremblay-Racicot, an associate professor at the National School of Public Administration.

In its 2023 budget, the Ontario government allocated $70.5 billion over 10 years for public transit, while the envelope for road expansion and repair projects across the province is $27.9 billion over the same period.

In Quebec, the political class seems to forget the phenomenon of induced demand when it decides to invest in road expansion projects, explains Ms. Tremblay-Racicot in an interview with 24 hours about public transport.

“When there is congestion, (governments) tend to increase road capacity. But the more we increase supply, the more it generates demand. This applies to all road-focused transport ministries,” he insists.

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