The ABCs of getting from Point A to B in QC

Date 21/11/2016

Written byTaylor Ireland

People who live in cities know what an infuriating nightmare getting around in a vehicle often can be. Traffic congestion, unfortunately, is a fact of urban life in a society that treasures its attachment to the automobile. Of course, the severity of traffic problems is a relative thing. It is my view, as someone who has experienced the frustration of traffic in various cities around the world, that Quebec City’s vehicular challenges – let’s not call them traffic jams –  are modest and manageable, all things considered, and easily avoided, given the options available these days.

Quebec City, statistically speaking, is a pretty average city in terms of traffic, compared to other urban areas in Canada. According to data for the last census in 2011, the average time for a commuter to get to work – by private vehicle or public transit – is 22 minutes. That breaks down to the following: 28 percent took less than 15 minutes, 42 percent took up to 29 minutes, and 20 percent took up to 44 minutes.

By contrast, the average commute time in Montreal was 29.7 minutes, in Toronto, 32.8 minutes, and, back in Saskatoon, the biggest city in my home province of Saskatchewan, the commute is 19.9 minutes.

Quebec City workers have about the same habits as most urban Canadians when it comes to getting to work. A little more than 80 percent of Quebec City area residents take a car, truck or van to their job, while about 11 percent take public transit, meaning the bus. A little more than six percent of people have the pleasure of walking to work.

These numbers are five years out of date – the 2016 census data won’t be released until next February – but based on existing trends and observation, it’s clear there are more cars on the road than back in 2011. At the same time, the road network has undergone many major improvements to ease traffic flow at peak hours.

The public transit network, Réseau de transport de la Capitale (RTC), has also expanded accordingly, with more than 45 million passenger trips per year. It’s also been quick to embrace new technology such as electronic tickets, and improved the quality and comfort of the network. Nearly 97 percent of city residents live within 800 metres or less of a bus stop. The RTC will have about 80 hybrid buses in its fleet by the end of next year.  

There’s been a bit of a debate lately amongst civic leaders about the future of transit in the Quebec City region. One of the problem areas identified is the bottleneck of traffic leading to the two bridges between Quebec City on the north shore and Levis on the south that occurs frequently at rush hour. We’ll be hearing a lot about the pros and cons of a « third link » across the St. Lawrence River in the coming months and years.

While the debate over a third bridge – or less likely, a tunnel – goes on, there is a project already in the works to provide Quebec City and Levis with speedier and more efficient transit. That’s the Service Rapide par Bus (SRB) project, which is a network of dedicated bus lanes connecting the major commercial, educational and office clusters of the metropolitan area. It’s like an above-ground subway without rails or tunnels. The first phase of the total 38 km network is slated for construction between 2019 and 2022.

The SRB is a cost-efficient option to handle large volumes of commuter traffic. Each of the SRB units can accommodate 150 passengers, the equivalent of taking 125 cars off the road. They will run at high frequency and, because they operate on dedicated lanes, there won’t be the stop and start annoyance of city traffic. The SRB is an exciting, sensible solution to deal with the growth in inner city commuter movement.

Quebec City has a tradition of being a major railway hub. Its magnificent train station in the old city, le Gare du Palais, recently celebrated its centennial. The spectacular, historic Quebec Bridge, was built to connect the Canadian Pacific and Grand Trunk Railways. Nowadays, while people are rediscovering the advantages of train travel, Quebec City stands to benefit from Via Rail’s plan for high-frequency, more reliable service. The project, now being studied by the federal government and potential investors, would see Via’s passenger trains running on their own rails, and not be hindered by freight traffic as is now the case.

Looking skyward, Quebec City is fast becoming a major player in aviation. The city-operated Aeroport Jean Lesage is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year – it got its start as an air force base during the Second World War. The airport is undergoing a major expansion, called YQB 2018, which will see it equipped to handle annually two million passengers and more going forward. The airport got another big boost recently when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and U.S. President Barack Obama announced the approval of a U.S. pre-clearance centre which will streamline connections to U.S. airports and open up access to hundreds of U.S. airports without customs services on-site.

Closer to the ground, Quebec City has a variety of ride-share programs available, plus the innovative Communauto service which allows people to rent vehicles on short notice from a fleet located in neighbourhood lots throughout the city.

And yes, Quebec City has the Uber private taxi service, which will proceed under a pilot project approved by the provincial government.

We could devote lots of space to getting around by bicycle in the city, but winter is on our doorstep,  so maybe we’ll save that for another time.