Montreal is a fantastic city with fantastic transportation. I’ve been to Montreal twice, and have used the transportation systems quite extensively each time I was there. I took this photo of the downtown area from the top of Mont-Royal in my latest visit in May 2014:
TYPES OF TRANSIT
Montreal has three types of transportation working in parallel: bus services, an underground metro system, and a large network of commuter rail lines serving outer suburbs. Montreal also has long-distance bus and rail connections which allow easy connections to other cities.
Here’s the frequent transit network map, which includes bus and the metro:
And the commuter rail network:
I took buses quite a few times during my stay in Montreal. Most visitors will end up taking the bus at least once if they use public transportation in Montreal, as route 747 is the main route to and from Pierre Elliot Trudeau (YUL) airport.
The 747 route runs as an express bus with little stops outside of the main downtown core, has convenient luggage racks for passengers with lots of luggage, and a simple direct route. The first stop after the airport is the Lionel-Groulx metro station which offers a connection to the green and orange lines of the metro.
I also used a few other routes within Montreal, mainly route 55 which runs from the plateau area (where I was staying) towards downtown Montreal. I had a lot of success with the buses, and never had to wait more than 5 minutes or so at any point. Montreal’s buses are mostly usually pretty new diesel vehicles made by Nova Bus and can be found as standard, articulated, and mini vehicles.
Interiors are good too since the buses are pretty new
Bus stops are easily identifiable and are complete with all the requisite information.
Stops are NOT announced on Montreal buses, nor is there any kind of digital display indication the next stop.
Montreal’s rubber-tired metro system, first opened way back in 1966, is the heart of urban transportation within Montreal. There are a total four lines: green, orange, yellow, and blue.
Many of the trains are the original 1966 vehicles, with a few slightly newer ones from the 1970s. Even though the trains are nearing 50 years old, you really wouldn’t know it. The trains have updated, modern interiors with prominently displayed maps all over the place.
The stops are announced in French only via the PA system. I also noticed that the doors slam open and shut really fast, just like the Paris metro. Make sure you’re quick to get on and off! The vehicles can be quite crowded and narrow; it is NOT possible transfer between cars within the train. Brand new trains, called Azur, are scheduled to arrive in 2014. These trains will really bring the metro into the 21st century.
The Metro stations are usually quite well lit, with easily recognizable signange and logos throughout urban Montreal. Here is an example of the exterior of the stations:
Montreal’s metro is one of my favourites. It goes everywhere I need to go, is frequent, fast, and safe. My brother’s house is located a short walk away from Sherbrooke station, here:
The downtown core of Montreal is only a few stations away by metro. One of the reasons I like this metro so much is because it’s entirely underground, as a subway should be! The transportation systems complement the urban planning of Montreal’s neighborhoods, but do not dominate. The stations are there where you need them, but out of sight, safe underground where it’s warm and dry. And sometimes in the summer it’s a little too warm – the metro cars are not air conditioned!
There are five different regional/commuter rail lines serving greater Montreal, with one under construction (see map above). The oldest of which, the Deux-Montages line, dates back to 1918. This is also the only line which is electrified because it travels through a tunnel.
During both my stays in Montreal I didn’t take the commuter trains at all. My stays in Montreal have centered solely around the urban core where the metro is the main way to get around. As in most major cities, Montreal’s commuter rail is designed to get commuters to and from the downtown core (central station) from the various suburbs.
The regular fare is $3.00, but more if using the trains to get out to the suburbs. Each metro station has an attendant and usually one or two machines where you can buy one-time use passes, day or monthly passes etc. Coins are accepted as payment on the buses. One time use passes last for 90 minutes.
Once you have a pass you can transfer freely to any other mode of transport as many times as you like (this is the best possible situation). The 747 fare is $9.00, but if you get a 24 hour pass or more (minimum $10) the 747 is included. On my latest trip, I spent $23 on transit in Montreal. What I SHOULD have done is gotten a 3-day pass for $18, which is a great deal and includes access to the 747, but unfortunately I didn’t think about that at the time!One time use tickets are fed into the machines whereas the 24 hour or greater passes are contactless.Finally, for people who want to have a monthly pass or reloadable card, Montreal has the Opus card, which is their more durable contactless smart card system.Various fare receipt media, including the Opus card:
GOOD: Metro, bus, and trains: perfect system! Most buses seemed quite new, luggage racks on airport bus
BAD: The metro fleet is a little old, i.e. no air conditioning and limited standing space
GOOD: I never waited more than 10 minutes across all types of transit, lots of metro stations downtown
BAD: Off-peak metro times are relatively low compared to automated transit
GOOD: Metro stations and trains have lots of maps for finding your way, trains have lots of maps and information, system is inherently simple
BAD: Bus stops are not announced, not many maps on the buses (except 747)
GOOD: Stations were mostly well-lit, accessible, with great French signage
BAD: As they were designed in the 1960s, most of the stations are not accessible, and a little dark and old which can invite graffiti and homeless weirdoes.
Final thoughts: Despite the 8.7 score, I actually think Montreal’s system is pretty much perfect. While people from Paris, London, or Tokyo may think that the underground system is miniscule, it’s absolutely the right size for Montreal. The classic system of underground metro, heavy-rail commuter trains, and bus services works so well around the world it’s a wonder other cities do anything else. Think of all the major world cities famous for good transportation: Paris, London, New York, Tokyo, Seoul… What do they have in common?
Grade-separated metro/subway, commuter/urban rail to the suburbs, and bus/streetcar services to complement them. Perfection!