Living in N.D.G, a borough to the west of Montréal’s downtown area, has many perks. The beautiful parks, the hip music scene, some great cafés on Sherbrooke, one of the best used book stores I’ve ever encountered, but mostly for me the largest perk is getting to benefit from Montreal’s fantastic public transportation system. It makes getting around easy, and inexpensive, and one definitely gets to take in some of the most interesting people watching there is out there.
One of the things that got me hooked on public transportation in Montreal was a youtube video that I was shown early last year of a commercial for the metro system filmed while it was just freshly built. You can watch it here…
One of the best parts of this commercial…
…is that it uses those ridiculous four tones that the older trains emit when they are accelerating out of the metro stations. Not to mention the fantastic outfits and dancing.
More seriously however, the metro system was built in 1966 in preparation for Canada’s one hundredth birthday and Expo ’67 in Montreal. It is the first metro system in the world to be entirely rubber-tired, and carries about 1.1 million people DAILY. It was voted the best metro system in North America in 2010, with a total of 293 million people having used it that year alone, not including transfers (meaning that if you took the bus then transferred to the metro, that wouldn’t be counted in that number, so really more people would have been on the metro/bus than that at any one time). It has four metro lines and 186 bus routes (plus 23 nightly bus routes).
It is surpassed in use only by the New York public transit system, and by the Mexico City system. Montreal’s population being ~3.9 million people, New York ~18.9 million people and Mexico City ~21.2 million people (all metropolitan area statistics, most relevant for commuters). That means that these usage stats are pretty impressive for a city of Montreal’s size.
The Société de transport de la communauté urbaine de Montréal (STCUM) has a wonderful history, ripe full of pictures of old buses and electric trams and railways (all of which you can even see on wikipedia, or go to the Pointe-À-Callière Montreal Anthropological Museum for more cool stuff). For instance, the public horsecar system through 1894 and the public streetcar service that ran from 1894 all the way to 1959. Trolleybuses were used from 1959-1966, when the construction of the first three lines (yellow (Line 4, Berri to Longueuil), orange (Line 2, Bonaventure to Henri-Bourassa) and green (Line 1, Atwater to Frontenac)) of the metro was started. In 1971-1976 the green line was extended to the Olympic Park where it now remains, in 1978 the green line was extended in the opposite direction to Angrignon. The orange line gradually opened past Bonaventure, and by 1986 it had been extended to Côte-Vertu. In 1988, the blue line (Line 5) was completed, and in 2007 the final extension to the orange line to Montmorency, Laval was completed.
There were several lines, such as the white line (Line 7), whose designs were rejected due to funding. This line would have extended from Pie-IX to Maurice-Duplessis/Langelier. Line 3, the red line, from Mont-Royal to Cartierville was also scrapped due a dispute with Via along with a rumoured Line 6 which was never fully developed. This stuff I find most fascinating: the map of the metro system, at which I look almost every morning, would have been so colourful!
On top of the metro, there are the numerous buses and commuter trains that run in every which way across the island and beyond. I myself will use the express bus at times, they are clean and it is always nice to be above ground while traveling. Less interesting people watching on the bus however, the metro is really where you see Montreal fashion at its finest (? or its worst?).
One example of good people watching is one morning, this woman and I were both noticing on the metro that there was an older gentleman
sitting in a chair by the window who looked like he was sleeping. However, at the same time, we also noticed that he was bleeding outside the back of his head. I rushed to the old man and started trying to rouse him from his slumber, and the woman ran to the emergency telecom to signal the driver (we were stopped at Lionel-Grioulx station). The driver and security guard came to our car to attempt to wake him, to no avail. Eventually, a police officer showed up and said “this is the police” and he (obviously) awoke, extremely drunk and angry (and very French, remember this was 7am); he muttered some curse words, the guards left, and the train was on its way.
Prices for the metro are really affordable as well, just take a look at their fare schedule. I myself pay the full $70-ish dollars for the OPUS card, mostly because I forgot to renew my grad school membership, but it makes me feel like I’m contributing a little more to the world’s best metro system (in my not-so-biased opinion).
In all, take the bus, take the metro, take the commuter train. It’s a great excuse to be able to see the city and its diverse habitats, inexpensive, and the metro stations are clean and oh-so-cementy-70s-architecture-like. It’s good for the environment too!
In the words of the commercial, il fait beau dans le métro. (Certainement s’)il (ne) fait (pas) beau, (prends donc) le métro!