Monday, October 25, 2010

Montreal Part 3: Métro station function

Welcome to Part 3 in the series "What I learned in Montréal," documenting the day trip I took with my friend Meg on a Saturday in May to check out Montréal's cycling and transit infrastructure for lessons that can be applied in Ottawa. Previously, in Part 2, I discussed the segregated bike lanes and other bike lane infrastructure.

In today's post, I'd like to talk about Montréal's subway--the métro. With Ottawa planning a light-rail transit tunnel through downtown with four underground stations, lots of transit aficionados are comparing the depth (up to 40 metres deep) to some of Montréal's deeper stations. This will be a big change for Ottawa transit riders, who are used to disembarking at one of the seven surface-level stations (Bay to Campus) that serve this same distance. Fewer stations will lead to a longer walk from station to destination, plus the added walk from platform to surface. Ottawa's transit planners are counting on making up for this time with the train's faster travel through downtown with fewer stops and no other traffic to contend with.

Still, I wanted to see what the user experience was like, how long it takes to get to the surface, and if this trip feels onerous from the user standpoint. And since I grew up in subway-less Ottawa, I wanted to see what other things worked and didn't work in Montréal.

The first thing we noticed was that access points were all over the place. Unfortunately, the markers don't indicate which station they are (though we had navigation problems with street signs while cycling, too).

The ground level entrance to the stations were pretty plain, except for those inside other buildings. I don't think any of Ottawa's will be this big. There was more going on once you went down to the mezzanine level, where you find the ticket booths and turnstiles.

While a daypass is $7, the fine print is that you also have to purchase an Opus smart card for $3. This touchless card allows you to get through the turnstiles, as well as on buses.

While we rode most of the métro system, we only checked out a few of the stations. Outremont, on the blue line is 13.8m deep, and it took us 2.5 minutes to get from the train to the street. Ottawa's will be 30-40m deep.

Charlevoix has the deepest platform of all Métro stations, at 29.6m deep on the Honoré-Beaugrand platform (still less deep than Ottawa's proposed stations). This station has two very long escalators, separated by the turnstiles on the mezzanine level, plus a short flight of stairs to the lower platform level.

Charlevoix is a stacked-platform station, with one direction on stop of the other, which is not a likely configuration for any of Ottawa's stations. We timed ourselves getting from the surface level (top of the upper escalators) to getting our feet on the lower platform, and it took us 2 minutes and 10 seconds at a reasonable walking pace on an uncrowded Saturday. This, of course, doesn't count the additional time it would take a commuter to exit the station once at ground level and get to his or her destination, or to wait for the train after getting to the platform.

One thing Meg and I noticed was that it felt like the horizontal travel (i.e. walking along corridors) felt more time-consuming than the vertical travel (going up and down escalators). Walking from one escalator to another also helped to break up the trip, so that you didn't feel you were standing on the same escalator--or walking along the same corridor--forever. But then we were also exploring these stations for the first time also. Having to go up three flights of escalators, as with Ottawa's proposed Downtown East station, might get annoying after the first few times. Additionally, while our goal was to consider the depth of the stations, a traveller trying to get to a certain location might find the reverse--that the vertical travel gets in the way of their horizontal trajectory. They might also appreciate, for example, that this walkway at Henri-Bourassa saves them from having to walk that far outside during the wintertime.

Some of the walks, like to the yellow line at Berri-UQÀM, are so long that these "Halte-Métro" resting stands are built into the corridor walls so you can take a rest during the long walk. There were also even uglier stainless-steel seats for the same purpose. Paradoxically, one of the reasons Ottawa's stations will be so deep was to avoid such walks: if the stations were shallower, you'd have to have the platform for one direction under one street and the other direction a block away. But who really has to transfer from one direction to the other at the same station?

Since Montréal's Métro stations were built before accessibility was a prime consideration, stations are slowly being retrofitted to include escalators, as is the case here with Côte-Vertu station (whose renovations should be complete by the end of 2010).

Once you actually get to the platform, you notice a few things. For example, here at the Berri-UQÀM terminus of the yellow line, the train lets passengers off on the far side, dedicated to exiting passengers, then moves to the near track to pick up the new passengers headed in the other direction.

On one of the other lines which only passes through Berri-UQÀM, courtesy lines are painted on a platform that must be very busy at rush hour. The lines direct boarding passengers to leave space for unboarding passengers to get off first.

There aren't any separators between the platform and the tracks/train, as is being recommended for Ottawa's tunnel stations (glass doors would be aligned with the train doors and would open at the same time, so that people could only pass through them to enter or exit a train car, eliminating the risk of people jumping onto the tracks)

Another trait of Montréal's metro unique in Canada is its rubber tires. While making for a smoother ride (which was actually still pretty loud and bumpy), it requires the entire system to be protected from the elements. Only a fraction of Ottawa's LRT system will be underground, less than 3 km of the 12.5 km proposed line.

Once you get on the train, there are illuminated signs that indicate the name of the next station, as well as what bus routes serve that station. Unfortunately, the display only shows this information once, then it shows two-colour advertisements until the train arrives at the next station.

The interior of the train car is unremarkable. Mainly standing room. There is a fast food takeout bag on the floor of this car, right under the sign urging people to throw out their garbage.

Montréal is one of very few transit systems in Canada that allows eating on the subway. Ottawa banned eating on the bus until permitting it in 1999 after complaints by people with diabetes, and we're far from deciding whether or not to allow it on our LRT system. I did not notice any public washrooms in the Métro stations in Montréal, and I fear we won't get any in Ottawa, either.

The train cars have emergency procedure signs posted near the exits. Under the seats nearest the exit is the manual door-opening switch. Other similar signs advertise fire extinguishers and other safety equipment stowed under the seat.

In the stations, recycling bins are apparently sponsored by (or at least bear the advertising of) the free local newspapers that are the primary source of litter on public transit.

Navigating the stations was a bit daunting for this first-timer, especially at Berri-UQÀM, which serves three lines. Here's a photo of the map on the mezzanine level.

At Lionel-Groulx station, when we get to the surface, the signs advertise the name of the street (Atwater) and which bus routes are available. What I would have appreciated was a simple indication of North/South/East/West, since ascending at many stations can involve many turns and can be quite disorienting.

Now that we're on the surface, we'll have a brief look at the bus system. Stay tuned for the next post, where we ride the bus!

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