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The cost of public transit projects: Quebec must perform better

Publication of a CPP report

March 26, 2024

While the Quebec government is planning huge public transit projects in the coming years, a report published on March 21, 2024 by the Centre for Productivity and Prosperity – Walter J. Somers Foundation (CPP) reveals that the tens of billions of dollars invested are not always fully justified, and that these projects do not comply with internationally recognized best practices.

“Many large public transit projects in Quebec experience significant failures because of governance issues and poor planning”, says Jacques Roy, Professor in the Department of Logistics and Operations Management at HEC Montréal, and author of the study.

“Whether they are in Montréal, Quebec City or Gatineau, Quebeckers have every right to be concerned. Take the REM project, for example: the first phase was delivered three years late and at a cost of nearly $8 billion, 45% more than the initial budget.”

Although the Quebec government has already announced its intention to create an agency to manage the execution of large public transit projects, the author has doubts about how it will work. “The agency is being welcomed by many of the parties involved. But caution is necessary. We should be aware of where this team of experts is coming from, as we may well end up with the same individuals who are overseeing current projects. To what extent is the creation of this agency likely to delay the completion of these projects and facilitate the governance of future projects?”

Several possible solutions

The costs of public transit projects are rising so rapidly around the world that there is an urgent need to seek ways of reducing these expenses, by drawing on best practices.

Among the possible solutions proposed in the report, Professor Roy stresses upon the requirement to improve the first phases of the project, i.e., the launch and planning, and to react more quickly during project execution to limit the risk of exploding costs.

“In Quebec, the real problem is that we seem to be unable to correctly identify needs beforehand,” contends Jacques Roy. For example, take the third link for Quebec City. The government abandoned this idea after suggesting different ways of connecting the two shores, without ever publishing studies that stressed the need for this project in the first place.”

Find out more

Report – The Cost of Public Transit Projects: Quebec Must Do Better (PDF) [only in French]

Centre for Productivity and Prosperity – Walter J. Somers Foundation