Montreal Bicycle Club’s
letter to Transport Minister
Hesitancy in providing bike carriage shows Via Rail is not a serious partner for transportation alternatives
January 11, 2024
January 1, 2024
The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez
Minister of Transport of Canada
Dear Minister Rodriguez,
We write to you as a bicycle club concerned that Via Rail does not enable passengers to take their bicycles on trains in the Windsor to Quebec City corridor, despite past promises. This limitation is a problem not only for cyclists seeking recreational opportunities but also for local communities in the region that are investing in cycle infrastructure and the promotion of cyclo-tourism.
The limitation on bicycle transport on Via Rail trains is also inconsistent with Canada’s climate commitments and the need to shift from cars to public transport. We are looking to you to ensure that Via Rail does its best to respond to these concerns.
The Montreal Bicycle Club is a social, recreational group of cyclists based primarily in Montreal. We have regular rides around the greater Montreal region along with excursions to the different regions of Quebec, Ontario, and points farther afield.
The members of our club are interested in a variety of environmental and urban design issues. Many of our rides near the Island of Montreal combine cycling with commuter Metro-Exo-REM trains avoiding car travel completely.
Unlike these commuter trains, intra-city Via Rail trains out of Montreal have many restrictions making it difficult for cyclists. Before COVID, only a few of the Windsor/Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal/Quebec City corridor Via trains had a baggage car that allowed bicycle carriage. There was only one such train per day between Canada’s two largest cities.
However, we did manage to use this handful of baggage trains to take our bikes on excursions to Quebec City, Kingston, Ottawa and Toronto. After the start of COVID, Via Rail quickly removed all corridor baggage cars using health reasons as an excuse. It is no longer possible to transport a bicycle by train from Montreal to any of these cities. Indeed the Halifax and Jonquière/Senneterre are the only two Via Rail trains entering Montreal that allow bicycles.
The corridor regions of Ontario and Quebec are heavily promoted for cyclo-tourism. One needs only to visit transportationoptions.org, Velo.qc.ca, Ontariobybike.ca, and biketrain.ca to see this region’s effort to promote bicycle tourism. In fact, many of these websites (londontourism.ca, mtl.org, destinationtoronto.com) incorrectly state that corridor travel for cyclists is available by Via Rail. As well, workers commuting between cities would also like to take their bikes.
When our members wrote to Via Rail last year querying their decision to remove corridor baggage cars, they were told that a new fleet of trains was about to be launched, equipped with bicycle racks. We anxiously awaited combining train and bicycle travel again within the corridor.
Finally, in October 2023, on an outing to Ottawa, we returned to Montreal on one of these new trains and saw the new, but as yet unusable, bike racks in place. We asked the Via Rail employee when the racks could be reserved for bicycles, rather than luggage. We were told that there would be no bicycles on board until ALL the new trains are in service, as it may not be possible for Via Rail to ensure the two-way passage of bikes between cities.
On this new train running between Ottawa and Montreal, we saw that Via Rail has allocated spaces for only 4 bikes, not enough capacity for a mid-size outing by our club alone. We fear that once this carriage service becomes available it will be difficult to make reservations even for small groups of cyclists as these few racks become oversubscribed.
Later Via Rail said to other members that bicycles cannot be taken on their new trains because their reservation software is not yet programmed for booking of bicycle spaces.
Via Rail, with much fanfare, announced the launch of a new reservation service effective November 18, 2023. However, the new reservation software makes no mention of bicycle racks. Again, we will have to wait for a future revision to the reservation software before bicycle carriage is resumed in the corridor.
Canada is committed to addressing the climate crisis. An effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to promote active and public transportation as an alternative to car usage. We feel that Via Rail’s quick removal of baggage cars during COVID and their hesitancy to implement bicycle carriage on their new corridor trains shows that they are not a serious partner in providing transportation alternatives. Their actions demonstrate a lack of vision on the part of Via Rail.
Via Rail, as a true partner to the cities and regions that have invested in infrastructure and promotion of cyclo-tourism, should be anxious to restart bicycle carriage on corridor trains ASAP.
Via Rail is a Crown Corporation serving the public good. It has an essential role in helping to create a system of eco-tourism and in helping to reduce GHG emissions by providing true transportation alternatives. As the minister in charge of transportation, you should ensure that Via Rail is fulfilling its duty by providing adequate transport of bicycles on its trains in the Windsor to Quebec City corridor. The lack of bike storage space on Via trains has a negative domino effect with far-reaching consequences.
President of the Montreal Bicycle Club
Mario Péloquin, Via Rail President and CEO
Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada
Caroline Proulx, Minister of Tourism, Quebec
Neil Lumsden, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport, Ontario
Waterfront Regeneration Trust (Great Lakes Waterfront Trail)
Centre Infotouriste de Québec
Bureau d’information touristique de Drummondville
Lanark County Tourism – Smith Falls
Visit the County – Prince Edward
Explore Waterloo Region
Chatham-Kent; Visit CK
Tourism Windsor Essex Pelee Island
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca, its publishers or editors.
The Montreal Bicycle Club is a social, recreational group of cyclists based primarily in Montreal. The Club has regular rides around the greater Montreal region along with excursions to the different regions of Quebec, Ontario, and points farther afield. Its members are interested in a variety of environmental and urban design issues.