Tag Archives: Montréal public-transit

Austerity Measures & Bad Design in Montreal Public Transit

And now for something completely different...
And now for something completely different…

Not exactly the kind of news regular users of Montreal’s public transit system want to hear, but it looks like the city’s public transit agency is facing a budget shortfall of $20 million, and this apparently is going to result in service cuts – the first since the late 1990s despite increased usage. The city recently tabled it’s 2014 budget, which includes $12.5 million for the municipal transit agency, but this apparently isn’t enough to keep up current service rates according to STM President Philippe Schnobb.

Thus, cuts will focus on evening and weekend bus service, promotions and general cleanliness and maintenance.

I find it surprising that there’s money for new uniforms, however. You’d think the STM would use that money to keep buses moving and our Métro stations clean, given that it’s ridership that provides the primary revenue stream. Cutting back on the availability and quality of the principal service provided by the organization while spending money on new uniforms seems like a piss-poor idea to me. This wouldn’t happen in the private sector. Can you imagine the outrage if Air Canada cut back on flights and the general maintenance of their aircraft in a move to save money, all the while repainting the airplanes and buying new uniforms?

k-9_subway_std -

I guess that’s the key difference between the private and public sectors. Taxpayers aren’t shareholders, though we should be considered as such.

Above is a good example of why austerity measures don’t really work. It starts with cuts to cleanliness and maintenance, then security, and before you know it you’ve got the NYC Subway in the 1980s – filthy, unappealing, covered in graffiti and requiring police K9 units to maintain ‘law & order’. We shouldn’t follow their example. Rather we should learn from their mistakes.

Perhaps it’s political. Maybe there’ll be a back and forth and one day in a few weeks Mayor Coderre comes out and says, as a result of his fiscal prowess, the remainder of the STM’s budget shortfall will be covered by the city.

But I won’t be holding my breath. A 3% cut to service is just small enough it won’t result in mass demonstrations. Just frustration from the people most dependent on public transit, an unfortunately politically inconsequential demographic it seems.

I don’t know why they didn’t consider raising the fare. I think most public transit users would pay more to ensure, at the very least, that there are no cuts to upkeep, cleaning and maintenance.

It’s hard enough to keep our Métro stations and buses looking good – they need to be cleaned and maintained regularly or else they fall into disrepair. Haven’t we learned anything from the Champlain Bridge? Never cut back on regular maintenance – the problem not addressed today will be even more problematic tomorrow.


I included the photo above as an example. Métrovision is actually running ads boasting about the total number of screens installed throughout the system, but as most regular users will tell you, many of the screens seem to be defective. I took the above photo at Vendome a few nights back – each screen was similarly defective, some had those annoying black spots, evidence of someone having hit or thrown something at the LCD screen. At Lionel-Groulx all four projectors weren’t working on the upper deck of the station – they haven’t worked for months. At Guy-Concordia and Bonaventure the situation was much the same as at Vendome – the screens have either been busted by vandals and/or the image doesn’t display properly.

And the STM is going to cut back on maintenance?

I’d be less concerned if it weren’t for the STM’s ‘half-assing it’ approach to improving the public transit system we have. The Métrovision screens are just one example of a good idea so poorly and inefficiently executed it makes me wonder if it wasn’t done on purpose so as to ensure the need for long-term maintenance contracts. Then there’s the Métrovision screens installed behind concrete beams at Snowdon Métro, meaning it can only be seen if you’re standing directly underneath it (see photo at top). Another example, the new bus shelters at Lionel-Groulx. The STM built what I can only describe as the world’s most ineffective bus shelter:


Now, if Montreal were located 1,000 km south (and the average Montrealer stood ten feet tall) this might not be such a bad design. But such is not the case, and this is apparently, actually the best the STM could come up with.

If this is what austerity gets us, it would be best not to build at all. These shelters are useless, primarily because they don’t provide much shelter. It’s really just that simple.

I’d prefer the STM stops putting up fancy new bus shelters with interactive advertisements and just focus on making what we already have work better. Figure out a way to get rid of the slush accumulating in Guy-Concordia. Try to eliminate the pervasive stench of urine at Bonaventure. Encase all the TV screens in a plexiglas container (why wasn’t this done from the start?). Run more buses, run the Métro later etc. And for Christ’s sake – install some public washrooms!

Now, that aside, a few questions I have re: advertising.

Recently, I was dismayed to find Sherbrooke station, and several others, looking like this:



Again, who the hell at the STM thought this was a good idea?

If only I could nominate this for the worst advertising campaign in the Métro’s proud history.

I feel it demonstrates a profound lack of respect for the general aesthetic and architecture of the stations (let’s not forget, each was designed by its own team of architects, features its own art, layout etc.), not to mention serves as an excellent demonstration of how we treat our public spaces. That is, cheaply.

This is cheap, that’s the only word for it. We may as well cover all the station walls with cork board and hang staplers on the wall. Is it any wonder we also have to contend with vandals going out of their way to destroy what we have? If the people who run the system don’t appear to be terribly interested with keeping things presentable, how can they expect the people to treat it any better?

Isn’t there a slightly better way to generate advertising revenue than by pasting over the walls of our Métro stations with uninspired marketing gimmicks?

It doesn’t make any sense really. The STM is aces when it comes to designing their own branding, instructional and promotional materials, and I’d argue both the vehicles and the systems are all very well designed indeed. But when it comes to infrastructure, the simple stuff in the grand scheme of things, the STM proves to be maddeningly inconsistent. From garbage cans to benches, bus shelters to tunnels, advertising space, PA systems and TV screens, the STM has demonstrated a lack of imagination at best and incompetence at worst.

But as always, there are some interesting solutions to consider if we open ourselves to alternative ways of thinking.

Take for instance, the TESCO virtual supermarket found in the Seoul Subway.


There’s no question advertising is a key component of the STM’s overall plan to generate revenue, but it doesn’t have to be so much of the same old thing. As technology develops, advertising can move into interesting new territory. Take the above example. Rather than merely advertise a grocery store, TESCO brought the supermarket directly to the consumers as they wait to commute home at the end of the working day. Using your smartphone you simply scan the items you wish to purchase and place your order with online payment. The order is delivered by the end of the day. In time, developments such as a virtual store app linked to a credit or debit account could render the payment process automatic, and data provided by the user, the subway system and the smartphone could facilitate even more efficient delivery methods, timed to coincide with just after the user arrives home. The possibilities here are endless.

The TESCO virtual store model isn’t just impressive for its efficiency and the service it offers its customers, it’s also the best kind of advertising I could possibly imagine because it actually does something – it responds to my needs rather than telling me how a given store will satisfy my needs like no other. In terms of supermarkets and pharmacies the tired old pitch of incredible savings borders on the absurd (think about those idiotic Jean Coutu ads you hear on the radio set to the tune of Eine kleine Nachtmusik; ah, the refined elegance of simply unimaginable savings potential at my local chain-pharmacy! Gimme a break.)

I’d much rather have something like this serve as an advertisement. Something tells me you could easily justify slightly higher advertising rates in doing so. The STM shouldn’t wait for good design in advertising, they should push innovation in design as part of the broader image of the city as a design hub. Innovation of this type improves the overall experience enjoyed by public transit users due to the potential to save people the legitimate hassle of having to schlep to the supermarket. Yes it’s advertising, but it also provides a useful service too. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the South Koreans would be on top of this – generally speaking the mass transit systems of the Far East are prized by the citizenry, immaculately clean, punctual – a sign of modernity and progress to be enjoyed by everyone. Including a virtual supermarket in the South Korean context is simply the next step in providing an even more exceptional customer experience.

The Montreal Métro came into being eight years before the Seoul Metropolitan Subway commenced operations in 1974. Today we have a modest improvement of the original model and Seoul boasts the world’s largest, most comprehensive and most used subway system. Whereas we are complacent in our approval to cut back on station cleanliness and allow the provincial government to dictate how and when our Métro will be expanded, the Seoul system is internationally recognized for its polished look, air-conditioned cars and 4G LTE and WiFi service, in addition to overall ease of use.

We designed one of the world’s best mass transit systems over a decade before the South Koreans, and have pretty much rested on our laurels ever since. Today we’re riding 40 year-old trains and they’re operating a system generations ahead of our own.

I suppose it’s all a matter of priorities…

Premier Marois to Stifle Opposition with Métro Extension Plan

AMT Métro Extension Plan
AMT Métro Extension Plan

The mayoral contest officially kicked off today with Projet Montréal taking a strong lead, winning the idiotically-named ‘poster war’ thanks primarily to the fact the party is fielding 103 candidates and an immense volunteer effort. Aside from Projet’s street sign ubiquity, Mélanie Joly may have come in second place (who’s counting?) with her unconventional Super Woman pose and dark background posters.

And in response to a week of outright hostility from nearly all quarters of our city, the Premiere, Benevolent Queen Pauline Marois, announced a Métro extension. As the CBC puts it, “Montreal’s Metro system is about to get its biggest and most expensive upgrade since the Laval extension.”


In fact, the PQ has announced that they’ve set aside $38.8 million for a planning office with a two year mandate. Whether the PQ lasts that long is another issue.

So don’t get your hopes up – this isn’t a ‘shovel-in-hand’ announcement of the immediate construction of Métro tunnels. It’s more an announcement of intent to eventually do something.

When it comes to the Métro, that’s pretty much all we’ve gotten for years anyways. The Charest government made a similar announcement back in 2009 though nothing came of it, and the idea to extend the Blue Line further east dates back to the mid-1980s when the line was first developed. Of note, Charest’s 2009 plan called for closing the Orange Line loop, as well as extensions in both directions of the Yellow Line, in addition to the Blue Line extension, as you can see in the above image. Today’s announcement mentioned that a Yellow Line extension would be contemplated once the Blue Line project is completed.

Why not do both?

Why not do the 2009 plan?

Wouldn’t we save money in the long run if we streamline one big Métro expansion, rather than small, piecemeal extensions? It would certainly streamline bidding processes and purchasing, no?

The Blue Line’s proposed eastern extension to Anjou (specifically, to an intermodal terminus at the Galleries d’Anjou suburban shopping complex) will undoubtedly alleviate congestion on the Metropolitan Expressway and extend a convenient and efficient mass transit system into a broad medium density residential area. There’s no question about whether the extension is the right way to go, but we need to be vigilant regarding the estimated cost.

The PQ is projecting a $250 to $300 million cost per kilometre and a total extended length of six kilometres (about the distance from University to the Olympic Stadium along Sherbrooke) with five stations. On the outside that’s a $1.8 billion extension to serve a combined population of about 120,000 Montrealers living in the boroughs of Saint-Leonard and Anjou, one hell of an investment in a relatively small number of citizens.

The cost to extend the Orange Line to Laval by three stations cost about half that amount per kilometre, and that project was announced in the late 1990s but only completed in 2007. As you might expect, post-industrial Québec takes a lot longer to get anything done.

So don’t expect this Blue Line extension any time soon; those making the announcement today were indicating ‘the beginning of the 2020s’ for ‘full operations’.

Christ; I’ll be old by then.

I’ll say it one more time – we built 26 stations between 1962 and 1967 across three lines and it cost just under $1.5 billion (or 213.7 million in 1966 dollars).

Granted I’m obviously not an economist, but I would like to know why the cost of construction has increased so much in the past decade in particular. You’d figure we’d be getting some kind of rebate in Post Charb Commish Quebec, but this is as expensive as ever.

And we’re not exactly reinventing the wheel either – so how the hell did it suddenly become so expensive to build basic mass transit systems in our city?


Original design of Edouard-Montpetit station's connection with Mount Royal Tunnel
Original design of Edouard-Montpetit station’s connection with Mount Royal Tunnel

There’s another issue we should consider when thinking about the Blue Line and any potential future extensions. It has the lowest ridership of all four lines and the trains are shorter by three cars (you’ll notice that the platforms at Blue Line stations have barricades at either end as the stations were designed to operate ‘full’ nine-car trains). I think this is as a consequence of the line not directly connecting with the city centre.

As long as we’re re-hashing old ideas, why not take a closer look at the original design of Edouard-Montpetit station, which was intended to act as a transfer point between the Blue Line and the commuter rail line passing fifty meters under the Métro in the Mount Royal Tunnel (as you can see in the station’s original design plan above). The tunnel is now owned and operated by the Agence Métropolitain de Transport and is in need of upgrading to support new dual-power locomotives inasmuch as some kind of emergency exit at some point in between the tunnel entrances. I would argue strongly in favour of developing a connection between the Métro and the Mount Royal Tunnel as a means to transfer passengers on the Blue Line to Gare Centrale. This would not only require high-speed, high-capacity elevators (as they have at some Parisian Métro stations), but the potential construction of a short ‘by-pass’ tunnel deep underground. A difficult job no doubt, but far from impossible.

The benefit is that the Blue Line becomes a lot more useful with this upgrade. I’d even argue prioritizing this element of the original design before any eastern extension. If this connection were made, transferring at Edouard-Montpetit would give Blue Line passengers access to the Orange and Green lines via the Gare Centrale and Place Ville-Marie portion of the Underground City. For the hundreds of thousands of people living along the line’s route, Downtown Montreal suddenly becomes much, much closer – about five minutes from Université de Montréal to the heart of the financial district.

Such a development could lead to increased land values of properties within proximity of the Blue Line, not to mention give the Blue Line’s extension a more practical raison-d’etre. Call me a cynic, but I smell subtle vote-buying.

Don’t get me wrong – expanding eastwards is a good if very costly idea, and I’d like to know why this is taking so long and costing so much.

But if we’re going to extend the Blue Line’s reach, why not also expand its capacity and increase its utility as well?

I have a feeling realizing the original plan would have the effect of increasing ridership on the Blue Line to such an extent that the STM upgrades to nine-car trains on the line, thus giving the line the ability to truly operate at full capacity.

In any event, I should close with a thought.

There was once a time in which elected officials had to deliver on promises made, otherwise they’d lose the public’s confidence and the right to govern.

This is not the case today. The people are so incredibly disengaged and cynical we don’t expect anything from our supposed leaders at all. We carry on despite them. Sometimes they do something good, most of the time they’re an annoyance, occasionally they’re discovered to be outright criminals.

I don’t know what was so different about life in this city back in the 1960s and 1970s that made the people here demand action and quick results for their political support. I don’t know what lit a fire under people’s asses to get shit done. I know many people suggest Expo and Olympics being the sole motivating factors, but surely this can’t be the case. The people wanted action and their will was respected. We elected, and kept electing, a visionary mayor, who paid us back by giving us a truly global city to live, love and play in.

Today we get flashy press conferences that ultimately only promise more study and preparation for some interminable project whose only purpose seems to be to sap whatever confidence the people have in their elected officials.

I suppose my question is why the PQ isn’t coming to us with a plan to actually begin development?

I wish government had the self-respect and restraint to only bother the people with announcements of actual accomplishments.

Back River Bridges

Where Pierrefonds, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro, Ile-Bizard, Laval and the Laval Islands meet.
Where Pierrefonds, Dollard-des-Ormeaux, Roxboro, Ile-Bizard, Laval and the Laval Islands meet.

So if you’ll indulge me, a proposal to dramatically alter (and hopefully improve) West Island public transit in general and substantially increase the passenger volume of the AMT’s Deux-Montagnes Line in particular.

I once heard the West Island described as being ‘disconnected’ from the rest of Montréal. What an odd statement, I thought. The West Island is characterized by the two highways that lead into the city, and is served by two commuter rail lines that go right downtown. Admittedly there’s a rather large industrial zone that surrounds the airport, and this in a sense separates the West Island from the City of Montréal on-island, but considering the people of the West Island are inextricably tied to Montréal, I think disconnected is a bit much.

Now that said, I feel trends in urban renewal and development will gradually increase high-density residential space in the West Island, as land values across the suburban conurbation steadily rise. This will likely go hand in hand with extensions of mass transit systems. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes line, a piece of our city’s complex public transit scheme I rode nearly every day for the last decade, is indicative of this phenomenon. Since the creation of the AMT and the line’s refurbishment in the mid-1990s the line has served as a major pole of attraction for residential development and quickly became the line with the highest daily and annual ridership. The former city of Saint Laurent has experienced massive growth as a consequence of the three stations located in it, as have all the communities located on its route. As gas prices continue to increase, proximity to mass transit becomes a major factor determining the nature and location of residential development, particularly if oriented towards a commuting middle class.

But it occurred to me, in thinking about this notion of ‘disconnectivity’, that perhaps the problem isn’t so much that the West Island is too removed from the City of Montréal as it is from the other large suburban conurbation it sits next to – Laval and the Northern Ring.

Simply put, there may be a half dozen locations west of Highway 13 between the Island of Montreal and Ile-Jesus in which short, simple causeways could be constructed, linking residential streets on either side of the Back River at distances of less than a few hundred meters. Doing so would not only connect the West Island with Laval, it would further allow a greater distribution of West Island and Northern Ring suburbanites across the Deux-Montagnes Line’s many stations west of Saint Laurent. When you factor in the large amount of open land prime for residential construction in this sector, I think you get a pretty strong case in favour of trying to ‘stich up’ the Back River with simple little bridges.

But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. For my readers unfamiliar with this part of the metropolitan region, you should know first that the West Island is principally connected to Laval by means of two highways, both of which are located east of the West Island. Despite the many narrow points between the two islands along the northern ridge of the West Island, there aren’t any bridges to connect suburbs with one another. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is the only other connection between the West Island and Laval and the Northern Ring suburbs of Saint Eustache and Deux Montagnes, but the line is primarily designed to serve the needs of the commuting class, and thus is ineffective at linking these many similar communities. Hundreds of thousands of people living in similar looking sub-divisions, living similar lives, needing similar services and yet, despite the relative ease of hooking everyone up together, they remain separated. The lack of connection precludes more construction as well as densification, and it certainly doesn’t drive up property values. But if things were different, if this area was better connected, I feel strongly it would stimulate smart suburban development in this area.

Turning our attention to the image above, an index.

The map you are looking at is of the northernmost part of the West Island, including some of its denser residential concentrations. North is up, the river is colloquially referred to the Back River, which separates Laval from Montreal. The northwest quadrant of the isometric view features the Laval-Ouest district, part of Ile Bizard, the western part of Sainte Dorothée part of Laval and the Laval Islands. The northeast quadrant is mostly Laval and the top sliver of Pierrefonds. The southeast quadrant features Pierrefonds, Roxboro and parts of Dollard-des-Ormeaux. Towards the southwest Pierrefonds, Ile Bizard and a sliver of DDO. There are some problems with the labels on the image, such as the Roxboro close to the middle of the screen.

I don’t know how many people, precisely, live here. What I can tell you is that in this image there are at least four high schools and about a dozen elementary schools I can think of, in addition to maybe 20-30 daycares and somewhere in the vicinity of a 20 places of worship, including a mosque and several synagogues. Mind you, these are conservative estimates. This is the centre of a suburban conurbation – it’s where the West Island, Laval and Montreal interact, a crossroads if you like. The AMT’s Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is illustrated in mauve – out of frame to the northwest are the communities of Saint Eustache and Deux Montagnes. Continuing the mauve line towards the east (and the terminus, twenty-five minutes away at Gare Centrale), is Sunnybrooke Station, serving most of the DDO as well as a sliver of Roxboro and Pierrefond’s A-Ma-Baie district and further serving as the Roxboro-Pierrefonds AMT station’s ‘junior’ equivalent. This mauve line is the highest traffic commuter rail line in AMT service. It is efficient, popular and in high demand. With time, the AMT will both expand operational tempo as well as the capacity of the trains. When the West Island begins to increase in density, I firmly believe it will happen along this corridor. Simply put Saint Laurent borough is running out of room for new condo projects, and this area has a lot of room to grow; a wave of densification expanding west along a high-traffic public-transit axis is very logical.

Yellow boxes denote the three AMT stations in the area, from left to right, Ste-Dorothée, Ile-Bigras and Roxboro-Pierrefonds. Of the three, only the latter is connected to the STM, forming a vital yet over-used inter-modal station and primary transit hub for West Island residents. Residents of Ile Bizard don’t have access to the Ste-Dorothée station, despite being so close to it. Similarly, residents of the central part of Pierrefonds and DDO can’t access the Ile-Bigras station. In the case of the former there is a seasonal barge that runs during the comparatively short ferry season. It can haul two or three mid-size sedans and a handful of people and crosses a distance of only about 250 meters. This is hopelessly outdated. Ile Bizard’s 14,000 (and growing) residents have only limited access to one regular bus and one express bus, the latter of which happens to ferry people to Roxboro-Pierrefonds train station, much farther away that what’s on the other side of the small, shallow river. In the case of the latter, while a CN Rail bridge links Montreal with the Laval Islands, there’s no way to cross it other than by train. If there were a vehicular bridge it would become accessible to the thousands of people who live in the middle of the image. As it stands Ste-Dorothée and Ile-Bigras are underused, while Roxboro-Pierrefonds is beginning to cause very heavy traffic during the morning and evening rush hours.

Building the five small bridges I’ve drawn in blue may, I believe, serve to better distribute passenger access to these three AMT stations, in addition to making it possible to develop new bus lines to better connect this comparatively high concentration of people with each other.

To illustrate my point consider this. Say you were coming home from the city on the train and for whatever reason you missed your stop at Pierrefonds and wound up in Ile Bigras. Though you’d likely be within walking distance (i.e. under 30 minutes) from home, you have no way of getting back to the West Island other than waiting for a returning train (which may not happen for a while, or at all if you’re on the last train out) or getting a ride or cab. The ride back home may take a long time as well; from the West Island you need to take highways 40, 13 and then part of the 440 before it becomes Avenue des Bois to get to these two AMT stations, both located less than half a kilometer from the West Island and its well-connected bus service and familiar road network.

The black lines denote the major traffic arteries of the area. Most of the existing STM bus lines run on the West Island side of the above image, but if these bridges were completed the STM and STL could consider re-designing public transit access in the area to facilitate better interconnectivity between the two cities inasmuch as better distribution among the three AMT stations. Five little bridges to open new markets to existing services, greater convenience, greater interaction. All of these are major pluses for the people living here, a guaranteed way to increase property values and access to important services, like schools, daycares and clinics.

Red lines indicate where new roads would need to be built, while the two small orange lines denote land expropriations that will be necessary so new roads can be built. The one on the right would connect Pavilion with Gouin Boulevard, which would alleviate congestion elsewhere on Gouin and Boulevard des Sources, by cutting across the parking lot of a nursery. The one towards the centre may require expropriating land yet to be developed. A sound barrier will need to be constructed along both sides of the rail line to improve the quality of life of the residents living next to it, especially if increased operational tempo is desired.

The angular lime green line near Roxboro-Pierrefonds station denotes the easternmost part of Pierrefonds Boulevard, where it intersects Boulevard des Sources and Gouin Boulevard. During the morning and evening rush hours this street bogs down considerably, so much so that traffic can become easily backed up on all these aforementioned streets. The problem as I see it is that during the rush hours everyone on this stretch of the street is either going to or coming from the station, and as such only half the lanes are being used. With new traffic signalization, we could ‘open’ more lanes to mitigate the existing congestion. At times of the day only one or two returning lanes would be needed, while, allowing as many as five lanes to be open to heavy traffic going in a single direction.

But why make all these changes?

Aside from the main goal of easing traffic congestion and redistributing West Island commuters across three train stations in lieu of one, there’s the added advantage of making more parts of the West Island public-transit accessible, all of which, I believe, will support residential development and densification on this part of the island. Then there’s the convenience of no longer having the shell out a hundred dollars if you’re so unfortunate you miss your stop. This would be particularly useful for the tends of thousands of students who commute every day to university along this line (and who generally don’t have the liquid capital to pay for such a SNAFU). But perhaps most importantly of all it would effectively eliminate an unnecessary border between Montreal, Laval and many other outer-ring suburbs, and in doing so permit a larger overall population to have access to the services and facilities which exist in the West Island but are in short supply just outside of it. As I mentioned before, there are a surprising number of good public schools in the area above, though the population living on the West Island side is ageing and housing prices are sufficiently high couples with young children are moving further and further away so that they can afford the suburban aesthetic of their own childhood. The problem is that services have not been built to keep pace. As you can see this creates a bit of a predicament – the old schools in the West Island are no longer adjacent to the large quantities of children the area once boasted and rarely at full capacity. Home ownership is in the hands of an increasingly elderly population (whose children have left) while land values increase. This is not to say there are no children in this part of the West Island – certainly there are – but not nearly as many considering all the services available to them. Those kids now live farther away, where services are limited.

Just a thought…

Projet Montréal’s 2013 Platform & A Soft Landing for the Montreal Real Estate Market

Sunset on Beaver Lake
Sunset on Beaver Lake

Projet Montréal, the only clean political party left in Montreal, is first out of the gate with a campaign platform.

With a dozen weeks or so left before the November 3rd municipal election they are so far the only party to have developed a program, including 71 specific campaign promises. No other candidate has come up with anything even remotely similar, as the PM program covers everything it feels a city administration ought to be involved in (from transportation to quality of life, health, culture and economic development, among others), a smart move in that it will play a role in deciding the terms of future debate. With this document PM is pushing an issues and ideas-based election, as opposed to the facebook-styled popularity contest it’s been up to now.

I’ll save my judgement of the other mayoral candidates for when they actually come up with their own plan. As far as I’m concerned elections are supposed to be issues-driven, not personality-based. Thus, this is so far a one-party race; until the other candidates produce some kind of document outlining just exactly what they propose to do for this city, I can’t in good conscience even consider them legitimate candidates. I refuse to vote for a self-described political vedette.

What strikes me about PM’s platform is that it seems to be anticipating a long expected crash in the Canadian housing market and, further, seems designed to carry our local real estate market into the much desired soft-landing. In essence, investment needs to be coaxed away from suburban developments and big-box shopping centres and back towards the urban environment. In this respect, PM’s 71 promises are methods by which that investment will be secured. Our mayors have been of the laissez-faire variety for too many years. Now is not the time for the laissez-faire approach. Investment needs to be re-directed into improving city living as much as possible. The city and its urban neighbourhoods will continue to be a desirable place to live long after interest in suburban bungalows has waned, but we need an active administration to ensure investment follows interest.

It’s clearly one of Projet Montréal’s main goals to correct the population loss our city suffers to suburban development, now in some cases more than an hour away from the city centre. If the housing market bubble bursts, in my opinion it will be these suburban developments that will be suspended first. As it stands these new developments are a burden on available health and education services in the outlying suburban regions. It stands to reason a more forward-thinking civic administration would capitalize on this as part of its broad effort to get people to stay in the city. Simply put the city can offer a far higher quality of life in terms of available services, culture, variety of employment opportunities etc. It’s stylish too, and it just so happens our city benefits immensely from several large urban residential areas, most of which are extremely desirable to live in (case in point the Plateau, faithfully administered by Luc Ferrandez and Projet Montréal and perhaps our city’s most iconic neighbourhood and the envy of urbanites the world over. Consider what makes the Plateau such a success and ask yourself how many other urban neighbourhoods offer something similar).

The plan is hyper conscious of what Montrealers love about living in our city and as such much of the program aims to build on what we already appreciate. More bike paths, urban agriculture, Métro extensions, a tram system, fewer cars and less traffic in the city – the list goes on and on, but it’s all built around improving the lives of urban residents. I can’t help but think the entirety of the plan will result in higher property values city-wide, and I’m also encouraged that the party has outlined new poles for residential development within the existing city; new construction in the city isn’t going to end, it just has to be managed better. I think we’re getting pretty close to maxing out on the need for single or dual occupancy condominiums as an example, so hopefully private developers (who will have many more reasons to build under a PM government, at least based on this platform) will react and adjust appropriately.

Other interesting components of the PM program include a six-point plan to increase and empower independently owned and operated businesses and to revitalize ‘neighbourhood economies’ and the city’s many commercial arteries. PM also wants to improve public education by working more directly with the provincial government and local school boards.

Further, a significant plan to broadly develop the Métro, including prolonging operating hours til 3:30, replacing all Métro cars with the new model over the next seven years, and extend three Métro lines (Orange west to Gouin Blvd., Blue east to Anjou and west to Lachine/Ville-St-Pierre, and Yellow up to Sherbrooke and McGill College, effectively ‘twinning’ the McGill Métro station. A bold plan to say the least, but one that will certainly make it much more desirable to live in the city.

Anyways, here’s the link again – check it out, well worth the time.

Public may panic if provided with basic statistical information…

Montreal's Finest

So apparently the Montreal Police think the public would panic if we knew the Métro’s actual crime statistics, as they apparently have been feeding us bullshit for years.

The Gazette filed an access-to-information request a few years back to get the following basic data from the SPVM: what kinds of crimes happen in the Métro? How often are crimes committed and how do the stations rank in terms of occurrence? Pretty basic stuff I’m actually a bit astonished the Gazette specifically had to request (i.e. you’d figure this would be public knowledge, available on a city website).

The SPVM said no, that divulging such information could compromise their crime-fighting efforts to such a degree they’d be starting from scratch. After a bit of a back and forth the issue has wound up in front of the Access to Information Commission which has so far balked at even reviewing the case at all (which makes me wonder why they wouldn’t – what do these commissions do otherwise?)

During discussions the police lawyer argued that making this information public may cause a panic, as though she knew the SPVM’s argument stats published in the English-language daily might ‘tip-off’ common criminals and derail their efforts was a bit short on substance.

The Gazette, by contrast, argues such information would pretty much reinforce what seasoned Métro riders already know – some stations require a bit more vigilance and situational awareness than others. The Gaz goes as far to suggest the information “could warn métro users about potential dangers and allow them to take preventive measures”.

I don’t think there’s much more that can be done aside from being vigilant, and I’d like to know how many Gazette readers take the Métro come to think of it, but I digress.

The Gazette has a point – this information should be public (and I’d argue far more accessible as well).

The point isn’t so much to warn riders of where they ought to keep their guard up (hint – always be aware of your surroundings, free life pro-tip for ya), but rather to feed a knowledge-hungry citizenry the vital statistical data it needs to study and assess the actions of its elected officials and civil servants.

I want to know where crime is happening to see if the cops are doing their jobs, to see what might be facilitating the crime at those specific stations. Is it the poverty of a nearby neighbourhood? Or is it bad station design?

As I mentioned earlier, the cops made an effort and provided what they call data, though it didn’t quite measure up. For one, they only provided limited information about each of the lines on average, grouping the interchange stations (like Lionel-Groulx, Snowdon, Berri-UQAM etc.) together with the Yellow Line to create some kind of an equilibrium, this despite having highly detailed information for every station at all hours of the day and night.

To put it bluntly, submitting official SPVM data concerning crime in the Montréal Métro wouldn’t pass a CEGEP-level research methods class. Not only is this statistical garbage, it’s purposely deceptive.

And if the Rob Ford scandal is any indicator, the SPVM should be concerned. They run risk of creating a panic by inferring the data would cause a panic. Despite the data’s still secret, unseen status, it may be able to damage police efforts anyways; nothing quite gets under the skin of a young journalist like denied information, and this city is swimming in reporters.

Dumb move gumshoes.

Now I wanna know too. And why doesn’t the STM have this kind of information? Wouldn’t they have some kind of an idea about the crimes that are taking place in the Métro system too?

In any event, the real crime in my eyes is that I can’t get platform gyros:

The Tramways Issue & the Future of Montréal Public Transit

Of the various videos I looked at that featured archival footage of the city and the tramway we once had, this one was the least schmaltzy. Enjoy. It appears as though the STM’s choice of narrator certainly has no beef peppering his orations with English loan-words and anglicisms. I wonder if this was done on purpose to attract a wider audience or reflect the French as it is all too often spoken in Montreal.

Curious stuff…


I didn’t have a chance to get into too much detail on Daybreak, so I figured I’d offer the coles notes version here. Here’s the truncated version of my thoughts on the issue – I’ve expanded below further below.

1. Before we expand our public transit network or implement new systems, let’s ask ourselves whether we can do better with what we have. In sum, let’s prioritize renovation before expansion.

2. There have been many LRT/Tram proposals that have been floated about since we foolishly eliminated the system several years before the city even began construction of the Métro. Trams and LRTs have been proposed (or are being proposed) to connect Brossard and the Sud-Ouest district with the downtown, to connect the city to the airport, to replace the near totally unused 715 bus route, to run on Cote-des-Neiges Road, Parc Avenue (replacing the high-capacity articulated and express buses), Boul. René-Lévesque, Pie-IX and Peel Street (etc.) and even as a potential replacement for express buses running to and from suburban bus depots conveniently co-located at major area shopping malls. If we ever do get around to building any of this, we really should look to build as much of it as quickly as possible and using the same vehicles to streamline efficiency. Developing several different types of trams and/or LRTs is completely illogical.

3. Any new tram or LRT system built in the city should use a reserved lane and be given absolute right of way. If trams are getting bogged down in vehicular traffic (as they do in Toronto), they’re not really helping anyone at all.

4. Tramway routes should be designed to fill the gap between the bus and Métro network. I’d even go so far as to argue trams would be best used to completely supplement buses in the most densely populated parts of the city, allowing buses to be re-directed to suburban routes.

Some questions we should consider:

Are we optimizing the value of what we already have?

Is our existing system as efficient as it could be?

Do we have adequate services?

Could our diverse public transit services use a facelift?

There’s no better example, in my opinion, of how little control Montréal has over its public transit system than the news of the past weeks and months. The Fed wants to invest $5 billion in a new Champlain Bridge, but refuses to use that money for any other public transit purpose. They also insist that this money could not be used to construct an LRT system on the new bridge to serve South Shore commuters, that tolls are the only way to pay for it and that the original Champlain Bridge would have to be destroyed afterwards.

Meanwhile, the place-holder péquiste government insists that it wants the Fed to pay for an LRT on the new bridge, that it will spend $28 million to study a financing initiative, that it prefers spending $1 billion to extend the Blue Line east towards Anjou and St-Leonard, and that no money will be available for tramways development for at least five years.

And then place-holder Mayor Applebaum says that public transit in Montréal requires tens of billions to sustain operations over the next few decades and that no tram could be operational before 2021, some eight years from now. Applebaum won’t be mayor as of this November, leaving promises and proposals in his wake, with nothing actually accomplished.

Mayoral candidate and architect Richard Bergeron makes a good point – taxation could pay for a tram, we don’t need to wait for Québec or Ottawa to green light our transit initiatives.

I like this notion because, quite frankly, we haven’t had a mayor since Drapeau who was determined to lead Montréal, as opposed to letting it be led around by the nose by the often competing interests of Ottawa and Québec City.

We’ve become hostages. Cela doit cesser. Montréal needs to provide the public transit that best suits its citizens and the citizens in its periphery of influence.

As to the bridge, despite the obscene price tag and arguably obsolete transit concept (i.e. of an ultra-wide highway bridge without any high-capacity public transit component), it’s a federal project and we have no real say, at least at the moment. If we want our money better spent we should throw our political support behind either of the two local prime-ministerial candidates in 2015 and hope the oilmen who have taken hold of our nation’s government get swept under by their own operational mismanagement and economic incompetence.

Our city may have better luck negotiating with the PQ, as their minority position and ultra low popularity ratings may be enough to convince them to try and work with their enfant terrible, as opposed to telling Montreal what to do, a losing proposition on any subject.

So it breaks down like this:

The Fed prefers cars and bridges, the PQ prefers the Métro and the city is cautiously suggesting a tram system is in order. The commuter rail network, though valuable, has proven extremely costly to expand with CN and CP generally disinterested in cooperating with the AMT, while the proposed city-to-airport rail link as dead in the water as when they completed the train station in the basement of Trudeau airport’s main terminal some time ago. Aeroports de Montréal was most recently suggesting a monorail, doubtless with its own billion dollar price tag. And though residential expansion off-island has exploded in the last decade, provisions for better STM service in these suburban areas is currently non-existant.

Some commuters living in the Greater Montreal region regularly spend anywhere from two to three hours in traffic, every single day and coming from all directions. This, more than any other factor, is what’s responsible for the degeneration of air quality and the single greatest threat to the long-term viability of sustaining Montreal as a city. As long as we continue to grow, something which I would hope is inevitable, we have to expand public transit service to mitigate the environmental damage caused by so many hundreds of thousands of cars on our roads. Under ideal circumstances, at some point in the future public transit will be the preferred and most convenient method of getting around the metropolitan region. Doing so will not only help us breathe easier and do immeasurable good for the quality of the local environment, but would further serve to allow our roadways longer lifespans and permit vehicle owners to significantly expand the lifespans of their cars. It means savings for the consumer and tax-payer alike over the long-term, something we’d be wise to consider. All the public transit improvement schemes I’ve seen thus far are limited in scope and can only be considered band-aid solutions to far more complex problems.

So where do we go from here?

For one I’d say now is not the time for expansion of the infrastructure of transit, but rather an ideal time to re-imagine, renovate and rehabilitate what we already have.

Why expand the Métro when what we have isn’t being used to its full potential? As an example, the Blue Line remains the least used in the whole system, largely (I would argue) as a consequence of the inconvenience of transferring at Jean-Talon station and the line’s lack of a direct connection with the downtown (consider the popularity and rate of use of the Parc Avenue and Cote-des-Neiges Road express and articulated buses). It just so happens that the Blue Line was originally supposed to intersect the Mount Royal Tunnel at the Université-de-Montréal Métro station. If we were to complete this design the Blue Line would likely operate at full capacity – you’ll notice that trains on the Blue Line are shorter than than the other three. Moreover, the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line would benefit from an exit at the tunnel’s half-way point and many more potential users.

And it would cost a lot less than an expansion to Anjou. The Blue Line’s proposed eastern expansion would itself be more useful if it offered a more-or-less direct connection with the city centre.

But this brings up two other potential improvements – inter-lining the system and introducing express Métro lines. Inter-lining would permit Métro trains to switch the lines they’re operating on – i.e. a train could go from the Green to Orange line without requiring passengers to switch trains. This could facilitate the introduction of myriad new lines, such as a circular route using the Orange and Blue Lines, or diagonal lines aimed at connecting the first ring urban suburbs and industrial zones directly, as opposed to funnelling everyone through the city core. I can imagine a better distribution of riders this way (which alone could all of a sudden make the while system more useful). Express Métros would simply not stop at certain stations, though this would likely require the development of ‘passing lanes’ or more sophisticated switching and routing systems.

And then there are the improvements that need to be made to most of the existing stations as is, such as basic aesthetic renovations, introduction of elevators for increased accessibility, anti-vandalism treatments (e.g. all those fancy new TV screens don’t have simple plexiglass covers and as such many have been damaged by idiots) and better in-station services, like dépanneurs and public washrooms. Anti-suicide barriers would also be nice.

AMT commuter rail map - 2013
AMT commuter rail map – 2013

With regards to our commuter rail network, this too would be better off without any more expansion. The Train de l’Est project has become a bit of an embarrassment for the AMT, as it is now more than double the initial cost of $300 million and two years behind schedule. On top of it all, there’s an on-going dispute between the AMT and CN as to the new dual-power locomotives and double-decker train wagons procured by the AMT, something which may delay the opening of this train line even further.

Aside from getting this line up and running and finding a solution in which the new train wagons and locomotives could be used, the AMT should prioritize increasing the rate of operation on its network, ideally making all lines run as frequently as the well-used Deux-Montagnes Line (currently the busiest with the highest operational rate of the whole network). Station services need to be improved as well, as almost all are little more than concrete platforms and un-heated glass box shelters; no cafés, no dépanneurs, public washrooms or station attendants. The AMT also has to work out a solution with ADM, CN and CP to establish a rail link to the airport once and for all.

It seems like we’re quick to come up with conceptual renderings of what could be while we drag our collective feet improving that which we’ve already developed. Moreover, I firmly believe the city of Montréal will have to take a leadership role in settling disputes between various transit agencies and the rail giants. We have one of the most comprehensive rail networks of any North American city, but our commuter rail service doesn’t have access to most of the system. Again, an investment in routing and switching technology could help us better optimize what’s already built. City-owned multi-level parking garages at major suburban train stations is another initiative that could maximize the number of commuters, in addition to providing another means of paying for public transit improvements, if not future development. Commuter rail is probably the single best way to get large numbers of people to and from the ever-expanding suburbs, but only if the investment is made to maximize efficiency and convenience.

Proposed Tramway Network developed by the City of Montréal in 2007
Proposed Tramway Network developed by the City of Montréal in 2007

As to the proposed tramways network, there are a lot of good arguments against spending on this kind of public transit at the moment. I would like to see a tram system one day, and believe that it is an ideal system for the city’s urban core, but nonetheless believe we should prioritize making what we already have much better before embarking on new development. François Cardinal provides some excellent arguments to that effect in this article.

I’m in favour of expanding public transit access not only throughout the city, but more importantly in the established suburbs and residential development areas within the broader Greater Montreal region, but I think herein lies one of our biggest problems – we tend to look at public transit either as a city or suburb-specific issue, with various levels of government jostling for different regions of voters. A city such as ours requires better access across the board, no exceptions. Urbanites and suburbanites need better door-to-door service.

However, this must go hand-in-hand with legislation and various other political tools designed to get people to use public transit as the primary means for commuting. What’s destroying our local environment inasmuch as our roadways is primarily the hundreds of thousands of passenger vehicles clogging our roads, all too often going nowhere fast while expelling noxious fumes and carbon dioxide. We all know the drill on this issue.

And we can’t wait for private industry to institute clean vehicles – they’re far too slow. Our own idiotic governments won’t allow electric cars produced here in Québec to be used on our own roads. Perhaps I’m being optimistic in thinking government could institute proactive environmental legislation when the inflated bureaucracy we deal with has such a long and inglorious history of dragging its feet on such vital issues. The city thus needs to take on a leadership role – neither the péquistes or Harper Tories will do much of anything to help our transit system – so far its nothing but delays, potential studies and prohibitive cost projections.

So all that said, I’d prefer we take a step back from discussing expansion and new trams and instead focus on getting the absolute most value out of what currently stands, knocking down inter-organizational conflict and seeking to make public transit as attractive as possible to all citizens. If we can secure higher usage rates across the systems and infrastructure we already have, then and only then can we take a serious look at developing new systems or major expansions to existing networks.

The city of Montreal's current, watered-down Tramways network proposal.
The city of Montreal’s current, watered-down Tramways network proposal.

There’s no question trams could be very useful in the city; the city’s roadways were created with trams in mind, unlike the suburbs that are better served by regular and express bus service. Implementing a tram system in the urban core would allow buses to be re-positioned in more suburban areas, permitting an expansion of suburban public transit access with vehicles we already have. But if people are disinclined from using the bus and Métro, for whatever reason, whatever initial interest there is in trams will likely quickly evaporate. We can’t afford expensive novelties.

Final note – a lot of these projected tram lines closely mirror existing Métro routes. Some would argue this isn’t intelligently designed, that tram lines should go where the Métro doesn’t. On the other hand, if we were planning a major renovation of the Métro network, a surface tram that mirrors the Métro somewhat might not be a terrible idea.

Also, why not co-locate trams on otherwise pedestrian-only streets? St-Catherine’s Street is narrow and consistently jammed with pedestrians; for several summers in a row the street has been closed to cars in the Gay Village, an effort which has not only proven popular but useful as well. Instead of building a tram on René-Lévesque, an urban boulevard specifically designed with cars in mind, why not install it on St-Catherine’s, which was designed with trams in mind, and close that street to cars entirely? A re-developed, pedestrian and tram-centric St-Catherine’s Street could optimize tramway efficiency simply because it would have no cars to compete with.

In any event, just some things to think about.