Transportation lawyer Jordan Charness says disgruntled Montreal public-transit users may have the grounds to request a class-action lawsuit over late buses.
By not observing the schedules it posts, the Société de transport de Montréal may be engaging in false advertising, Charness said.
His comments came after a Gazette report yesterday on McGill University professor Jeremy Cooperstock, who has been reimbursed for $40 in taxi fare by the STM after he had to take cabs because his buses were late.
When the STM refused his initial request, he went to small claims court. The STM settled before it went before a judge. The next time he filed a claim, he threatened legal action and the STM paid up.
"The whole point of settling out of court is to say, 'No judge made me do anything'" - no precedent is set, Charness said. But publicity about this case may encourage other Montrealers to demand taxi reimbursement, leading to more small-claims cases.
"I'm sure (the STM) is not going to say: 'Okay, now we're going to pay everybody who has a taxi bill.' They're going to make everybody go to small claims court and they'll take a case and see what happens."
Charness said there could be an opening for a class-action suit for users "who are inconvenienced by buses not showing up in good weather."
The difficulty would be in determining who suffered damages, and the amount of the damages, he said. "You'd have to sit down and crunch the numbers and see how often they are late and how often it is the STM's fault."
The STM could justifiably say it can't control the weather and traffic caused by accidents, for example, he said.
The STM says its schedules give riders an "indication" of when buses are expected but the transit agency says it is not bound by the timetable.
But in saying that the STM seems to be admitting it engages in "false advertising," Charness said. "You're advertising a bus every 10 minutes and you're not actually saying that that's true. So you've enticed me to go stand in the cold for 10 minutes for a bus rather than take my car."
Cooperstock said he hopes attention generated by his case convinces the STM to fix chronic bus unreliability.
For example, on his line - the 24 on Sherbrooke St. - buses that arrive late are often bunched up with other buses.
"It doesn't really do the customers much good to have three buses in a row, one with people pressed up against the windows and two behind it, completely empty," he said.
Cooperstock said the STM also seems to cut buses from some routes when it is short of vehicles, in which case it should change the schedule.
The STM will not comment on Cooperstock's case or on suggestions it engages in false advertising, spokesperson Marianne Rouette said.
She said the STM has "no control over certain elements that may unfortunately affect schedule adherence," such as accidents, traffic and road work. The transit agency can't "be held liable for damages caused by delays that cannot be entirely attributable to the STM," she added.
That doesn't mean the STM will reimburse taxi fares when it's the STM's fault that a bus is late - for example, when not enough buses are available, she said. "Each case is unique and must be must be considered and treated as such," Rouette said.