Best not to be on the streets of Montreal on snow-loading nights. Burned red lights, dangerous manoeuvres, overworked drivers: it’s a crazy race – and dangerous – to clear the streets as quickly as possible, has seen The Press accompanying those responsible for cracking down on offenders.
Officer Dragan Perosevic gets off a grader after a routine intervention, corner Decelles and Côte-des-Neiges. As soon as freed, the vehicle runs a red light under the nose of the traffic controller, the truck police. “Well no, let’s see! No no no ! »
This is how the nights following the storms go in Montreal: in the minds of many snow removers, the Highway Safety Code seems suspended during loading. “It seems that some people think that because of their work, the rules do not apply to them”, illustrates the agent Anthony Bérubé, who patrols with his colleague Perosevic. ” But this is not true. »
During the night from Thursday to Friday, the two controllers were concentrating on monitoring the loading operation triggered the day before. Objective: to bring some order to this far west.
Because these machines, with their huge blind spots, can kill. On average, nearly three people die in a snow removal accident each year in Quebec, according to a review by The Press of 2020. Just last month, Zohaib Aamir Shafiqui was killed at just 16 years old by a snow removal truck in a Laval parking lot.
Their presence in the streets of Montreal is closely watched by the workers, who warn each other on the radio of the movements of the agents. “Be careful, the green men will stick to you! spat the grader’s radio as Dragan Perosevic chatted with his driver – the traffic controllers’ uniform is green.
A few hours earlier, in the early evening, the duo had intervened with the driver of a huge snow truck immobilized in a reserved lane, blocking a bus stop and preparing to make a prohibited left turn at the corner of Saint- Michel and Jean-Talon. “I’m going to join my blower,” pleaded the offender, before agreeing to comply with the rules.
He couldn’t ignore that the traffic controllers were keeping an eye out: his truck had just been fined $549 for not being equipped with a raised dumpster alert, made mandatory in the wake of collisions between dumpsters and viaduct.
During the night from Thursday to Friday, three pairs of traffic controllers patrolled the streets in the part of Montreal located east of Highway 15, but they were not all assigned specifically to snow removal like officers Perosevic and Bérubé.
“Not all my trucks! »
At the heart of this great sprint: the method of remuneration for truckers, paid for the snow trip. Every minute counts to get to the snowblower first, fill up and unload as quickly as possible. This ride is repeated many times during the 1:00 to 2:00 shifts that these workers often work.
” Stay safe. Take your time,” suggests Anthony Bérubé to a driver who has just been fined for running a red light, corner Saint-Joseph and Christophe-Colomb. In English, the driver defends his point of view. “Sir, it’s a challenge to drive this truck, it’s a big machine,” he explained.
Truckers aren’t the only ones getting paid based on their speed. The tow trucks that free the streets are in the same boat.
Corner Papineau and Saint-Grégoire, officers Perosevic and Bérubé see one turn left on a red light as she pulls a car that hides its rear lights. The tug should install temporary lights on the back of the vehicle it is pulling, but few seem to do so.
“We have an exemption”, tries the worker, cigarette in the beak. False, answer the agents. After a brief inspection, officers discover that the Hyundai Kona was fixed in a hurry, without respecting the rules. The total.
Even blue-collar workers – though paid by the hour – are stressed.
“It’s fun in this country to delay the loading like that! shouts a team leader from the City of Montreal to the controllers inspecting a truck. His foreman tumbles in all his states a few minutes later, with both hands clasped as if in prayer. “Not all my trucks! Not all my trucks! begs Gabrielle, who thinks that the controllers immobilize the whole row of trucks which are about to be filled. The controllers put the clocks back on time, the boss smiles again. “My load is not progressing tonight. He is not advancing! There was only one thing missing, it was you guys! She explains that she has to tow more cars than usual, which causes delays.
“Can you hurry up? »
At the Saint-Michel snow dump, in the former Miron quarry, an organized chaos of trucks, industrial snowblowers and pick-up trucks is busy all night. An employee of the City of Montreal approaches the controllers who make their rounds: “I am happy to see you”, he says, reporting that certain trucks working on private contracts are filled in an exaggerated and dangerous way. “I don’t find it normal. Dragan Perosevic gives him a card with a phone number to report anonymously. “This collaboration is important,” explains his colleague Bérubé.
At the entrance to the site, seeing the patrol car of the controllers, a truck driver jumps on the brakes in an intersection where he should have stopped. This time, he will get away with it without a fine. “He stopped,” tempers Agent Perosevic. When they later see a young signalman joining a colleague aboard the cab of a tractor intended for a single passenger in the middle of Décarie Boulevard, they turn on the flashing lights and intercept the vehicle. The 19-year-old was sitting on a crate of milk, without any protection in the event of an accident.
The worker is reluctant to identify himself, pretending to hesitate on his year of birth. He won’t show the same degree of patience that he demanded of the controllers: “Can you hurry, please, sir?” We still have a lot of streets to do. »
He will get away with it without a fine, but the driver who brought him in inherits a ticket, which he promises to pass on to his boss. While the controllers issued their findings, he had time to pass the word on to all of his colleagues. Bringing the signalmen into the cabins, “it’s over”, he swears. Until the next sprint?
Who oversees snow removal?
Highway controllers are peace officers who report to Contrôleroute Québec, the agency of the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec (SAAQ) responsible for enforcing the laws on the transportation of goods and people in the province.