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Would you normally associate the SAAQ with dancing? The SAAQ mandataire at La Prairie donates all of its profits to a local organisation that organises dancing classes for children.

Isn’t that nice?

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of going to the Société d’Assurance Automobile du Québec, the SAAQ, you know how much fun it is to queue. It’s a delightful administrative complex with, well lots of people. You need to go for your drivers licence, car licensing, driving tests etc.

And you spend a lot of time there queuing. Demand is high – it’s like that. There are however other alternatives.

The SAAQ has outsourced some of its activities to “mandataires” – private companies that perform services on behalf of the SAAQ. These are generally much smaller than the main SAAQ office with only a relatively short queue of maybe 20 minutes, or if you go at the right time not at all.

To find your nearest mandataire consult the website of the SAAQ.

Some services are equally available online at SAAQClic.

Canadian Thought Leaders

This week anyone who’s anyone really wants to be in California at this year’s TED conference. If you haven’t yet been introduced to the concept of TED, it’s a big annual meeting of some of the world’s brightest minds on a whole range of subjects. You can watch talks from previous conferences at www.ted.com

Canada of course has it’s own share of thought leaders as you would expect. Quite some have had their views recorded by the Canadian Voices project – they are well worth listening too. Here are some of the more interesting ones that I’ve come across:

Matt Hern talks about reinventing education and why current education systems are not optimum for our children.

Irshad Manji is a muslim speaker who talks about the positive aspects of Islam and gives a different view of this religion than we usually see

David Suzuki is a top biologist and popular science speaker

Severn Cullis-Suzuki is David’s daughter and an activist in her own right. Famous for giving a speech to the United Nations as a teenager amongst other things.

Chantal Hérbert is a top Québec journalist and columnist working in both English and French

And now back to TED for a video of Mosche Safadie who built the famous river front “Habitat” appartment block for Expo ’67:


Snow Removal in Montréal

Snow removal is a very important, and sensitive, part of the winter here in Montréal. A new Snow Czar has just been appointed, Luis Miranda the mayor of Anjou. This part of Montréal has the best record on cleaning streets and pavements/sidewalks.

As soon as there is 2.5cm of snow on the ground, the snow ploughs come by and clear the streets of snow and leave salt/grit on the road. Pavements are cleared by a small snow plough too so that you can walk along them.

Once the snow fall has stopped, the snow left by the plough will be removed. See the images below to see this in action.

Large stock piles of snow exist around Montréal waiting for spring and summer to come and melt it. After last year’s record snow fall, it was still melting in dumps in August.

Canadian Sledge for little onesWhen there is a good inch of snow on the ground pushchairs are useless as the wheels won’t turn. Effectively this means that a pushchair is useless in Montréal from December until April.

You won’t believe what’s used instead! A sledge of course! Once your little one can sit up straight, you dress them all warmly in:

  • hat – known as a toque
  • gloves – hint put them on before the coat or buy bigger ones to go over the sleeves
  • scarf or “cache cou”
  • boots – starts at size 20 so once a child is between 12 and 18 months
  • bunting suit

and they can follow you around in a sledge.

When you arrive in Montréal for your first winter you’ll realise that there is a lot ot buy. It’s worthwhile going to the Mountain Equipment Co-operative at Marché Central as they sell good quality stuff at a reasonable price.

I was watching a video from TED.com the other day from a guy who was building a skycar. It’s a facinating video, but I expect it to be quite a few years until we’re all riding over the Saint Lawrence in such a vehicle.

One slide that Paul Moller, the head of Skycar, showed involved the cycle of transport infrastructure and he came to the conclusion that no more highways would be built.

This led me to think about the transport situation in Montréal. Essentially there are not enough roads for all of the cars that need to use them. Most of the bridges suffer congestion at peak times, so commutes can be long.

Public transport is growing at a good rate and there are some excellent initiatives such as reserving a lane for buses at peak times on the Champlain bridge. The island itself has reasonably good transit, there is the metro and buses are quite regular. However, many of the highways block frequently, the Metropolitain, the Trans-Canadian (known as the T-Can on the radio) and Décarie. So the buses get stuck in the traffic too.

Going out further into the suburbs are the AMT trains. This week there has been a terrible fuss about the poor service offered by the AMT who have responded well in my opinion to make quick improvements. There are 150 new railcars on the way to help improve the service too.

One of the big problems the AMT has is that it uses tracks that are owned by the two freight rail companies, CN and CP. Thus it has little control over the lines and can only run trains when CN and CP don’t need to. 

Frequencies tend to be alright at rush hour, but at other times there are very few trains running.

Suburbian buses are similar too. South shore services are offered by different companies depending upon the territory. Longueuil and Brossard are served by the RTL, La Prairie by CIT Le Richelain. Buses run reasonably often at rush hour, but outside these times there are very few services.

So coming back to Paul Moller’s presentation – he suggests that in order to cope with increasing traffic, the only thing that we can do is to use a skycar. I would suggest that the trend in Montréal is towards public transport, the need is understood and will probably be met before the skycar arrives at a driveway near you.

Here is the TED video of Paul Moller: